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Thousands of Illinois students get private school aid in new program’s first year

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Illinois’ program offering state tax credits for donations to help students go to private schools have given tuition assistance to thousands of students, but officials say the new program still faces challenges and opposition.

In its first year, the Invest in Kids program is going to help nearly 5,600 students with tuition assistance that will send them to a private school of their choosing. The program offers donors a 75 percent state tax credit. The money is then distributed to students who apply. Demand for tuition aid has outpaced donations. Empower Illinois, one of the organizations that distribute the money, said more than 30,000 students still are waiting for tuition assistance.

Empower Illinois Executive Director Anthony Holter said the students applying are saying that their local public school isn’t their ideal choice.

“Those are not best fits for their child and they want to seek another option, but can’t make that happen, or it’s very difficult to make that happen,” he said.

The program was passed as part of the sweeping school funding reform legislation that was signed into law last fall. At the time, Democrats cried foul on the addition of the program just before it was finalized.

Since January, the program brought in $44 million in donations, far short of the $100 million limit.

The money is split by regions of the state. Cook County, its own region, has secured $35 million in pledged donations. The rest of the state’s regions combined received less than $10 million.

“We are truly grateful to the donors of this program,” said Larry Daly, principal of St. Teresa High School in Decatur. “This program allows families in the Decatur area the option to choose the education that best fits their needs. For this, we are truly thankful.”

Even if supporters did hit the limit set by lawmakers, $100 million wouldn’t be enough to help every student who applied for a grant.

“We have demand that would far exceed the $100 million cap,” Holter said.

Empower has hired additional fundraisers in an effort to meet the demand. Money being donated up to the end of this year would go to a student for this school year.

Democrats have criticized the program, saying it uses state money that should go to public schools. If Democrat J.B. Pritzker is elected governor, he’s said he would end the program.

“It’s a top-of-mind thing for a lot of folks on the donor side as well as the parent side,” Holter said. “The fundraising can be a challenge when people are concerned whether or not they’ll get the deduction that was maybe a motivation for them in the first place.”

The program is otherwise set to expire in 2024.

The donations would not be fully deductible on federal filings, Holter said, because the 75 percent credit would have to be subtracted.

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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Illinois News Network, publisher of ILNews.org, is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media company dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility in the state of Illinois. INN is Illinois’ pioneering non-profit news brand, offering content from the statehouse and beyond to Illinoisans through their local media of choice and from their digital hub at ILNews.org. Springfield Daily was granted republishing permission by INN.

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New Illinois law requires high school students to apply for college aid before graduation

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In addition to math, science, reading, and gym class, Illinois high school students will soon have a financial aid requirement to graduate high school.

Every high school senior in the state of Illinois will have to apply for federal student aid before they can graduate.

Lawmakers approved the new law last week. Gov. J.B. Pritzker says he will sign it.

Under the plan, high schools in the state will be required to have seniors fill out a Free Application for Federal Student Aid, and if eligible a state student aid application as well.

State Rep. Katie Stuart says it will be easy for schools and kids, and could help some students get into college.

“This initiative will connect more students to the resources that are already available to help them get education or training after high school,” Stuart said. “But it’s flexible enough that we are not putting up any new barriers to graduation.”

Not all lawmakers are happy about the idea.

Opponents say there’s always a cost when the state requires local schools to do anything. And there’s a question about why all high school seniors need to fill out a FAFSA application.

But state Rep. Mary Flowers, who voted for the plan, said the requirement is aimed at the students who need extra help.

“You assume that all schools have the necessary counselors to take the time to educate the students, as well as the parents, about college and/or other programs,” Flowers told opponents of the plan.

Pritzker says the idea is critical for the state’s schools. He says he looks forward to signing the new law.

Once he does, the requirement will start in the 2020-2021 school year.

 

Article by Benjamin Yount with The Center Square. For more TCS visit https://www.thecentersquare.com/illinois

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LIVE | District 186 school board meeting January 22nd

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Follow along live with District 186’s school board meeting for January 22nd.

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Illinois educators wary of bill to require metal detectors in every school

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image from the Sentinel-Echo

A group of Illinois lawmakers are promoting legislation that would use a combination of state, local and federal funds to put metal detectors in every school in the state, but some school leaders say it’s simply not feasible.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford, D-Chicago, said students in schools should feel safe from gun violence when they’re learning. For that reason, the former teacher filed a bill that would require all public schools, K-12, have students walk through metal detectors everyday to get to class.

“Why is it that no one gets shot inside of Terminal 1 or Terminal 2 at O’Hare Airport?” he asked.

The bill would tap into federal funds made available this summer to partially pay for the walk-through detectors, which can cost thousands of dollars.

Regional Superintendent Mark Jontry, who oversees schools in DeWitt, Livingston, Logan and McLean Counties, said the idea is well-intentioned, but would result in a unfunded expenses for school districts and create logistical problems.

“Who’s going to be responsible for doing those screenings? Are districts going to be responsible for the cost of hiring additional personnel?” he said. “The concept, on the surface may seem like a good idea, but it presents a number of challenges once you dig into it.”

The detectors would have to be run by a trained professional and need regular servicing and calibration to ensure they work properly. Jontry said such costs would likely fall to local taxpayers.

Ben Schwarm, deputy director with the Illinois Association of School Boards, served on a working group with the Illinois Terrorism Task Force. The law enforcement contingent of the group had a hierarchy of actions that could be taken to “harden” schools from unwanted entry. Schwarm said metal detectors were last on that list.

“It’s just not that effective,” he said. “There’s a thousand things school districts should be doing before they get to that point.”

Article by Cole Lauterbach with Illinois News Network. For more INN News visit ILnews.org

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