PEORIA (CNS) — Bishop Thomas John Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois joined other Catholic officials statewide in applauding state education funding reforms that include a scholarship tax credit program designed to provide up to $75 million a year in scholarships for qualifying students attending nonpublic schools.
Gov. Bruce Rauner signed the highly debated reforms Aug. 31 at an elementary school in Chicago.
“Today we are making Illinois history,” said Rauner, claiming that legislation ensures that “every child in Illinois has an equal chance at an excellent education.”
“I appreciate the bipartisan efforts that went into the passage of this bill,” said Bishop Paprocki. “I am hopeful that the scholarship tax credit program will benefit many deserving students in our state.”
While much of the legislation was designed to remedy past inequities in public school funding, the inclusion of the scholarship tax credit program — promoted heavily by the Catholic bishops of Illinois with Cardinal Blase J. Cupich of Chicago as a lead proponent — is viewed as a significant victory for the state’s Catholic and nonpublic schools.
In a Sept. 1 Chicago Sun-Times article, Cardinal Cupich said he helped the governor and House Speaker Michael Madigan to trust each other and asked those on both sides of the debate to remember the children.
“We have to look at how we’re modeling for our kids ... how do we deal with challenges,” Cardinal Cupich said. “If it’s always in a toxic and antagonistic way, we’re not teaching our kids a good lesson.”
The new program allows taxpayers — individuals, corporations, partnerships or trusts — to donate to designated scholarship-granting organizations (SGOs) that distribute funds as scholarships to students from low-income households and others meeting specified requirements planning to attend a qualifying nonpublic school.
In return, donors receive a state tax credit of 75 cents on every dollar they give, up to a maximum donation of $1 million.
Bishop Paprocki has appointed Brandi Borries, superintendent of Catholic schools in the Springfield diocese, to consult with the Catholic Conference of Illinois as it works with the other dioceses in the province to implement the program.
“The prospect of more students in our state receiving a Catholic education is exciting,” said Borries. Jim Rigg, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Chicago, called the new state education budget a “true win-win for children and families in Illinois.”
Under the plan, a student would qualify for a scholarship if the family earns 300 percent of the federal poverty level or less ($73,800 for a family of four). A priority will be given to students from higher poverty households or those who reside in a poorly performing public school “focus district.” Students already enrolled in Catholic schools can qualify.
Tom Dermody, editor-in-chief. The Catholic Post, newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria authored this report. Contributing were Joyce Duriga, editor, Chicago Catholic, archdiocesan newspaper of Chicago and the Catholic Conference of Illinois.