Mothers work hard, and for the past year have worked harder than ever to keep their kids well fed, in clean clothes, motivated, caught up in school and safe from a worldwide pandemic.
But this Mother’s Day, moms across Illinois are also worried their kids will lose access to life-changing educational opportunities because of scholarship cuts Gov. J.B. Pritzker is pushing in his latest budget proposal. Instead of showing his appreciation for our mothers’ sacrifices in these unprecedented times, Pritzker proposes cutting scholarships for low- and middle-income families, the costs of which will disproportionately fall on mothers.
Pritzker wants to reduce the tax credit donors receive in exchange for giving to the Invest in Kids scholarship program, which provides a lifeline for low- and middle-income families looking for alternative schooling options that better meet their children’s needs. The governor wants to reduce the current 75% tax credit to 40%, which he says will generate $14 million in general revenue funds. Such a move makes children’s and mothers’ present lives harder and puts their futures at risk.
“Prior to the scholarships, I was paying for [tuition], 100%, by working extra shifts, or things of that nature to try to fill in the gap as needed,” said Syreeta Plummer, the sole provider for her family in Chicago. “The very first year [of the tax credit scholarship program], my daughter was able to get 30% or 40% covered. Every little bit helps. So that was the extra money able to go into the household for bills, food, expenses to live, etc. Every bit of savings helps our family at some point or the other.”
Research out of the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana showed women who faced income losses compensated through “delaying rent payments, delaying health care, or spending less on food.” Moms shouldn’t be forced to choose between providing a quality education for their children or putting food on the table.
Slashing the tax credit will make the program less attractive for donors and lead to fewer educational opportunities for low-income families. According to Empower Illinois, the average annual household income of participants is $38,000, and 49% of participating students are Black or Hispanic: minorities and mothers who have been unequally hurt by pandemic-related job losses.
Research by the Illinois Policy Institute found non-Hispanic Black Illinoisans were 9 percentage points less likely to be employed compared to similar whites before COVID-19. That at a time when many families have faced job loss of one or both parents, school and day care closures have prolonged recovery and forced more women than men out of the labor force to care for their children. Studies show in Illinois, 4.5% of women with children left the labor force compared to only 1.5% of men.
Bose Clodfelter’s husband lost his job before the pandemic hit. The tax credit scholarship allowed her boys to continue their education in Joliet private schools, where they are succeeding.
“We went through a really rough patch, and we were awarded the scholarship that year. That was the first year that we were awarded our scholarship. So, it actually came at the perfect time,” Clodfelter said.
This Mother’s Day, the Illinois General Assembly and Pritzker can lighten the load for mothers, especially single-parent households and minorities. They can expand opportunities for families to access the quality educations their kids deserve, as neighboring states Indiana and Missouri are both doing.
Moms have it tough enough without politicians trying to block one of the few ways lower-income children can thrive when public schools don’t fit their needs.
Ann Miller is a writer for the Illinois Policy Institute.