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Illinois starts second year of private school scholarships

January 15, 2019

ROCKFORD, Ill. (AP) — Nearly 5,500 students who received scholarships last year through Illinois’ taxpayer-funded private school scholarship program will have to apply again as the program enters its second year, program officials said.

The Empower Illinois program began accepting applications Tuesday, The Rockford Register Star reported . Priority will be given to students from families living on less than $45,510, which amounts to 185 percent of the federal poverty level, those living in poorly performing school districts, students who have siblings already in the program and kids who received scholarships last year — although they are not guaranteed to receive continued funding.

The program aims to assist low-income families by offering scholarships that cover 50 percent to 100 percent of the cost of sending a child to private school.

Critics say the program takes money away from public schools and benefits the wealthy. Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who took his oath of office on Monday , said during his campaign that he wants to end the program.

Empower Illinois is one of the organizations overseeing the Tax Credit Scholarship program, which was made available through the Invest in Kids Act. Lawmakers approved the $75 million tax credit program in a 2017 school funding overhaul.

The program’s first year ran into technical issues after the online registration system shut down following high demand.

Republican State Rep. Joe Sosnowski of Rockford said he hopes the program will complete its five-year pilot.

“By that time, hopefully people will see the value in it,” said Sosnowski, who is also the director of institutional advancement for Rockford Christian Schools, which had students receive funds from the program last year.

The program is funded through private donations. Donors expect to receive tax credits, an incentive from Illinois that encourages participation.

Sosnowski said this year’s fundraising efforts may have suffered following Pritzker’s statements.

“I’m sure that’s caused some uncertainty,” he said.

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Information from: Rockford Register Star, http://www.rrstar.com

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