Once again, this year, people have the opportunity to help students in Catholic schools and receive a tax credit at the same time, thanks to the Invest in Kids Act. And in 2020, more than any time since the scholarship tax credit program was passed by the House and Senate and signed by the governor, more donations are needed to help Catholic school families in the Diocese of Springfield in Illinois.
Brandi Borries, superintendent of Catholic schools, says 423 students from all over the diocese are currently on the scholarship waitlist, so the need is great. To fund all the students on the list would require $2,012,864.52. As of October, $159,161.72 was available. That means $1,853,702.80 is still needed. The deadline for awarding current year scholarships is just a few weeks off — Nov. 30, 2020.
Borries notes that last year, students in the Springfield diocese received a substantially greater amount for scholarships: $1,073,290.31. Moreover, Ken Vogt, a retired CPA and parishioner at St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Effingham, explains that statewide, donations have been dramatically down in 2020.
“The act placed an annual limit of $100 million on statewide donations to the SGOs, thus limiting the state’s loss of revenue to $75 million, annually,” he said. During 2018, the first year of the program, donors throughout the state contributed approximately $60 million to the program. During 2019, donors contributed approximately $50 million. However, during the first nine months of 2020, donors have contributed significantly less — $28 million. “The level of annual donations has not only fallen short of the $100 million annual cap, but has decreased each year,” he said.
The Invest in Kids Act was signed in August 2017 and includes a provision for tax credit scholarships, which provide strong incentives for donors to support non-public school scholarships for low-income students in the state. That means Illinois students from low-income families can use the scholarships to attend a non-public school of their choice.
The program offers a 75 percent income tax credit to individuals and businesses that contribute to qualified Scholarship Granting Organizations (SGOs). For example, if a donor contributes $1,000, they will receive state tax credit of $750. If he or she donates $4,000, there would be a $3,000 tax break. The SGOs then provide scholarships for students whose families meet the income requirement to attend a qualified non-public school in Illinois.
“This act was a real gift to or handout to proponents of school choice, private schools and their supporters, as well as families who desired a better education for their children,” explains Vogt. He is hoping that people will not procrastinate in making donations — and that donations will be made before the end of this month. He recently sent out a detailed letter to people in the Effingham area spelling out the need and giving reasons for people to help.
Borries and Vogt both hope that people would prayerfully consider a donation this month, because so many people in Catholic schools could use the scholarship dollars. Moreover, Catholic schools have much to offer.
“I believe the main reason for Catholic schools, and other religious schools, is to supplement the teaching of parents and grandparents, so that their children and grandchildren come to better know God,” Vogt said. “It is that knowledge of God that increases our faith and our relationship with him. God made us to know him, to love him and serve him. Our private schools teach our children respect and other moral values which will assist them as they mature to be good citizens and good leaders in our communities and our nation.”
“We know from research that the vast majority of reasons families applied for a tax credit scholarship include the values of instruction, higher academic quality and a safer school,” Borries said.
Vogt explains that the Invest in Kids tax credit is only available from 2018 through 2022 and will then need to pass through the legislature to be extended. If legislatures do not act on it, it will automatically be repealed. “If it indeed expires, then what will families do that have come to rely on the scholarships? That is a big question,” Vogt said. “I would encourage scholarship recipients to set some of the savings aside, if possible, in the event the funds are needed upon possible repeal of the program. In the meantime, proponents of school choice need to pray for a continuation and contact our representatives, encouraging them to extend this valuable program.
“For now, however, I believe our focus should be on the current moment and the current need for donations,” Vogt said. “Jesus tells us not to worry. Be not afraid. Our U.S. currency states, ‘In God we trust.’ Those words should have significant meaning for us as we try to put them into practice. Jesus said, ‘And behold, I will be with you always.’
“Donating to the Invest in Kids program is a legitimate, efficient way to avoid or reduce our state income tax liability,” Vogt said. “Such donations are the most efficient ways to help families in need.”
The website empowerillinois.org or many school and parish websites offer details about the program from both the donor side and the scholarship application side, he said.