Research & Commentary: Making the Invest in Kids Program Permanent is the Right Way to Go for Illinois

Published May 12, 2021

A bipartisan group of legislators have introduced a bill to make the Invest in Kids Program, Illinois’ tax-credit scholarship (TCS) program for low-income students which is set to expire in 2022, a permanent program.

Enacted in 2017, the Invest in Kids Program is open to families with household income levels below 300 percent of the federal poverty level. Currently, roughly 52 percent of Illinois families are eligible for the program, which has a budget cap of $75 million.

In February, Governor J.B. Pritzker introduced a budget for 2022 that would decrease the tax credits donors to the program would receive from 75 percent to 40 percent, in an effort to deter individuals and businesses from making bigger donations.

The main scholarship-granting organization for the Invest in Kids program, Empower Illinois, reported they awarded 5,505 scholarships to Illinois students at 418 different schools in 2020, with an average scholarship amount of $6,297. Nearly 70 percent of scholarship recipients qualified for the federal free or reduced-price meal program, with the average household income of a recipient being $38,403, or 153 percent of the federal poverty level. One if eight scholarship recipients also had a special need.

Empower Illinois also notes they raised over $41.4 million in 2020 from 2,751 individual donors. The average donation equaled $3,000, while the most common donation was $1,000. Since Invest in Kids began, Empower Illinois has raised over $127 million for the program, while total donations to the program are over $167 million, with over 22,000 children receiving scholarships. Current funding for the program only allowed 17 percent of applicants to receive a scholarship for the 2020–21 school year, with over 32,600 children forced to remain on a waiting list. Providing a scholarship to all these children would cost just over $205 million, Empower Illinois notes.

Naturally, with demand for the program so high, it is no wonder that is extremely popular with Illinois voters. A poll released in early May by Empower Illinois, conducted by ARW Strategies, found 61 percent of Illinois voters support the Invest in Kids Program, including 71 percent of black voters, and 81 percent of Hispanic voters. Further, 60 percent of voters oppose Governor Pritzker’s proposed cuts to the program, including 63 percent of black voters and 66 percent of Hispanic voters, while 45 percent of all voters said they would be less likely to vote for their state representative or senator if they supported the Governor’s proposed cut.   

“The poll results demonstrate strong, diverse support for the Invest in Kids Tax Credit Scholarship Program, particularly within Black and Latino communities,” said Anthony Holter, president of Empower Illinois. “We work with great families, school, and community leaders who all believe that during this challenging time, kids need more quality education options, not fewer. Together, we will advocate to protect and extend the tax credit scholarship program for families seeking brighter futures for their students and defend the education opportunities that work best for kids.”

Copious empirical research on school choice programs such as the Invest in Kids Program find these programs offer families improved access to high-quality schools that meet their children’s unique needs and circumstances, and that these programs improve academic performance and attainment and deliver a quality education at lower cost than traditional public schools. Additionally, these programs benefit public school students and taxpayers by increasing competition, decreasing segregation, and improving civic values and practices.

Research also shows students at private schools are less likely than their public school peers to experience problems such as alcohol abuse, bullying, drug use, fighting, gang activity, racial tension, theft, vandalism, and weapon-based threats. There is also a strong causal link suggesting private school choice programs improve the mental health of participating students.

The Invest in Kids Program is already providing a better and more enriching education environment for thousands of low-income Illinois children. Legislators should reject the call to phase out the program. Making this popular and successful program permanent, and increasing its budget cap to make sure every child on the wait list can also be served, is the right way to go. By doing so, they would ensure all Illinois children have the opportunity to attend the school that best fits their unique educational needs.

The following documents provide more information about tax-credit scholarship programs and education choice.

The 123s of School Choice (2021 Edition)
This report from EdChoice is an in-depth review of the available research on private school choice programs in America. Areas of study include: private school choice program participant test scores, program participant attainment, parent satisfaction, public school students’ test scores, civic values and practices, racial/ethnic integration and fiscal effects.

A Win-Win Solution: The Empirical Evidence on School Choice (Fourth Edition)
This paper by EdChoice details how a vast body of research shows educational choice programs improve academic outcomes for students and schools, saves taxpayers money, reduces segregation in schools, and improves students’ civic values. This edition brings together a total of 100 empirical studies examining these essential questions in one comprehensive report.

The Fiscal Effects of Private K–12 Education Choice Programs in the United States
From an analysis of 40 private educational choice programs in 19 states plus D.C., this EdChoice working paper summarizes the facts and evidence on the fiscal effects of educational choice programs across the United States. The programs in the analysis include three education savings accounts programs (ESAs), 19 school voucher programs, and 18 tax-credit scholarship programs.

The Public Benefit of Private Schooling: Test Scores Rise When There Is More of It
This Policy Analysis from the Cato Institute examines the effect increased access to private schooling has had on international student test scores in 52 countries. The Cato researchers found that a 1 percentage point increase in the share of private school enrollment would lead to moderate increases in students’ math, reading, and science achievement.

The Effects of School Choice on Mental Health
This study from Corey DeAngelis at the Cato Institute and Angela K. Dills of Western Carolina University empirically examines the relationship between school choice and mental health. It finds that states adopting broad-based voucher programs and charter schools witness declines in adolescent suicides and suggests that private schooling reduces the number of times individuals are seen for mental health issues.

Child Safety Accounts: Protecting Our Children through Parental Freedom
In this Heartland Policy Brief, Vicki Alger, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and research fellow at the Independent Institute, and Heartland Policy Analyst Tim Benson detail the prevalence of bullying, harassment, and assault taking place in America’s public schools and the difficulties for parents in having their child moved from a school that is unsafe for them. Alger and Benson propose a Child Safety Account program, which would allow parents to immediately have their child moved to a safe school – private, parochial, or pub­lic – as soon as parents feel the public school their child is currently attending is too dangerous to their child’s physical or emotion­al health.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit School Reform News, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

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