More than 30,000 Apply for Scholarships
By Penny Wiegert, Editor
January 24, 2019
It’s too early to tell how many of this year’s applicants to the Empower Illinois program are from the Rockford Diocese.
 
DIOCESE—The good news about Empower Illinois has gotten around, and lots of families — more than 30,000 — are taking part. 
 
According to news from Empower Illinois and the Diocese of Rockford Education department, more than 30,000 families around the state logged online to fill out forms Jan. 16 when the application process for the 2019-20 school year opened in hopes of securing funds to help send or keep their kids in private schools. 
 
Applicants for the 2018-19 school year totaled just over 7,500. From that number, Elizabeth Heitkamp, assistant diocesan superintendent for Catholic Schools, said the program helped 125 students with tuition in the Diocese of Rockford for 2018-19. 
 
Although it is too early to tell just how many of the 30,000 families applying now are from diocesan schools, she expects that more local families participated. 
 
She said there is approximately $1.6 million in funding available for the 2019-20 school year. Even families who applied last year must do so again. 
 
Empower Illinois is a statewide scholarship granting organization created in 2017 to serve Illinois children through the state’s tax credit scholarship program known as Invest in Kids. 
 
Invest in Kids Act is a five year pilot program that allows income tax credits for Illinois taxpayers who make authorized contributions to a scholarship granting organization (SGO). The SGOs, in turn, provide scholarships for eligible Illinois students to attend qualified, non-public schools in Illinois.
 
Last August, Empower Illinois held a regional press conference to thank supportive lawmakers, share testimonials from scholarship recipients and present a ceremonial check representing the sum of the scholarships distributed. Those stories helped news about the scholarship program to travel. 
 
However, Heitkamp said educating donors and parents is an ongoing process.
 
“We sent information to all diocesan schools and parishes to be put in bulletins,” she said. “Empower Illinois helped us do two informational meetings the week before the reservations opened.
 
“We have been discussing ways that schools can help themselves by raising more money for the program,” Heitkamp added. “So far our region has $1.6 million raised for next school year. Just how much of that funding is for schools in our diocese we hope to find out soon,” she said. 
 
She said it’s important that people understand what a win-win this program is for donors and families. That’s why Heitkamp will continue to educate diocesan Catholics about the program.
 
The Invest in Kids tax credit scholarship program was created in Illinois to benefit children whose educational options are limited by household income. 
 
The expertise of Empower Illinois, according to its website, is established through a partnership with Step Up For Students, the nation’s largest tax credit scholarship program administrator. 
 
Step Up has provided more than $2.5 billion and 565,000 scholarships to Florida students since 2001. 
To learn more about Invest in Kids visit Empowerillinois.org