Illinois will likely become the largest blue state to offer private school choice

Illinois will likely become the largest blue state with a private school choice program after an overwhelming vote by the state Senate.

The state House has already approved a sweeping budget agreement that will create a $75 million tax credit scholarship program. And the Chicago Tribune reports Gov. Bruce Rauner intends to sign the bill. The proposal is part of a broader compromise to fund public education. The package won strong bipartisan support in both chambers of the state Legislature.

National school choice advocates cheered.

“This is a great day for the families and students of Illinois,” Patricia Levesque, the CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education, said in a statement. “With the power to find the best educational opportunity to fit their unique needs, the futures of hundreds of students will be brighter.”As details trickled out over the weekend, the school choice proposal faced vociferous criticism from the Chicago Teachers Union and its allies.

“It is unconscionable that we would consider providing a tax shelter to the wealthy and to corporations in a time when the same black and brown children that Bruce Rauner and Rahm Emanuel claim to care about, that those children will be shouldering the burden for a tax shelter,” CTU Legislative Director Stacy Davis-Gates said. “This will not help the vast majority of families in Chicago. This will not help students get a better education.”

The details of the program don’t quite square with that rhetoric. Taxpayers (including companies) could donate money to nonprofits that fund private school tuition scholarships. They could receive tax credits worth 75 cents on the dollar for up to $1 million in donations. To qualify initially for scholarships, children would have to come from a household with earnings below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. In Illinois, that’s $73,800 for a family of four.

In other words, it’s hardly a “tax shelter” for donors. And it would place private school tuition within reach for thousands of lower- and middle-income families.

Once Rauner signs the bill, Illinois will become the eighteenth state to offer some form of tax credit scholarship. It’s technically a trial program. Lawmakers would have to renew it after five years.

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