Frequently Asked Questions for Families
New Scholarship Program Available!
The new Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship Program, made possible by the Illinois Invest in Kids Act, encourages families to apply for scholarships that can help them attend non-public schools, including but not limited to many of the schools traditionally supported by the Big Shoulders Fund.
What is the Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship Program?
This new scholarship program provides an additional source of funding for scholarships that can benefit students enrolled in, or applying to, qualified non-public schools, including the schools traditionally supported by the Big Shoulders Fund.
What is an SGO?
An SGO is a Scholarship Granting Organization, a tax-exempt charity approved by the Illinois Department of Revenue to administer the Tax Credit Scholarship dollars. Families apply directly to SGOs to obtain a Tax Credit Scholarship. Donors contribute to the SGO, which then makes payments directly to scholarship recipients’ schools on their behalf. At least 95 percent of contributions made to the SGO must be spent directly on scholarships.
Big Shoulders Fund has been approved as an SGO by the Illinois Department of Revenue. We are approved to award Tax Credit Scholarships in Region 1 and Region 2 — including the following counties: Cook, Boone, Carroll, DeKalb, DuPage, Jo Daviess, Kane, Kendall, Lake, Lee, McHenry, Ogle, Stephenson, and Winnebago.
How is the program funded?
Funding becomes available as donors reserve tax credits and then make their contributions to qualifying Scholarship Granting Organizations like Big Shoulders Fund. Donors can begin reserving their tax credits on January 2, 2018, and continue to do so until all credits have been awarded for the year by the Illinois Department of Revenue. The number of scholarships awarded will depend on available funding.
How do I apply?
The Big Shoulders Fund expects to begin taking scholarship applications from families on January 22nd at 8:00am. Families should expect to provide personal information, including documentation of family income, family address, family size, etc., for the purpose of confirming their eligibility. Applications only will be accepted online, so documents should be in an electronic format that can be uploaded with the application. Participating schools can likely assist with scanning supporting documentation for upload.
How do I know if I am eligible for a Tax Credit Scholarship?
Students who are residents of the state of Illinois and whose household income does not exceed 300 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for the Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship Program. As of December 2017, a family of four earning less than $73,800 is eligible for the scholarship. See chart below for more details.
Big Shoulders Fund is authorized to award scholarships in Region 1 and Region 2. If you reside outside of Region 1 and 2, please check the Illinois Department of Revenue website for a list of approved SGOs.
Keep in mind that eligibility is not a guarantee of award. Scholarships will be granted on a first-come, first-served basis according to both family income and residence as determined by state law. Furthermore, even eligible families may be placed on a waiting list based on our funding capacity. You may apply to multiple SGOs to increase your chances of obtaining a scholarship, though you can only accept one scholarship if you are approved by multiple SGOs.
How do you determine which students are granted priority status for the scholarships?
Eligibility for the Tax Credit Scholarship is based on income and location of residence as determined by state law. Until April 1, 2018, priority is given to families who earn less than 185% of the federal poverty level or reside in a focus district; such priority applications will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to eligible families, according to funding availability. After April 1, 2018, scholarships will be awarded on a first-come, first-served basis to all eligible families as funding is available.
How much will the scholarship cover?
Depending on your household income, eligible students may receive a scholarship that covers between 50 to 100 percent of tuition and eligible fees. Students whose household income is below 185 percent of the federal poverty level (e.g., $45,510 for a family of four) are eligible for 100 percent of qualifying tuition and eligible fees. Students whose household income is between 185 percent and 250 percent of the federal poverty level (e.g., between $45,510 and $61,500 for a family of four) are eligible to receive 75 percent of qualifying tuition and eligible fees. Those students whose household income is between 250 and 300 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for a scholarship that covers 50 percent of qualifying tuition and eligible fees.
If my child does not currently attend a qualified non-public school, can we apply?
Yes! New students whose family income and/or residence qualifies them for the Tax Credit Scholarship are eligible to apply.
If my child is already enrolled in a qualified non-public school, can we apply?
Yes! Currently enrolled students whose family income and/or residence qualifies them for the Tax Credit Scholarship are eligible to apply.
What about my preschool student?
The state of Illinois established the Tax Credit Scholarship Program for students in grades K-12 only; however, current 4-year-old pre-K students moving up to kindergarten for the 2018-19 school year are eligible to apply. Per the Illinois state law, a child must turn 5 on or before September 1st in order to be eligible for Kindergarten.
Big Shoulders Fund
Why should I choose Big Shoulders Fund as my SGO?
In the last 10 years alone, Big Shoulders Fund has provided in excess of $60 million in scholarships so more than 50,000 students could attend great private schools. Our programs provide a strong academic and social foundation beginning in elementary school, preparing students for quality high schools, and ultimately, college and career. Our graduates enroll and persist in both high school and college at rates above local and national peers. We don’t just provide money for scholarships – we support student achievement and vibrant, flourishing schools that prepare students to succeed in life.
Doesn’t Big Shoulders Fund already give out scholarships? How is this different?
The new Tax Credit Scholarships are in addition to Big Shoulders Fund existing scholarship programs and are funded through a separate source. State law determines how recipients of Tax Credit Scholarships are selected, whereas criteria for our current Big Shoulders Fund scholarship programs are based on parameters established by private donors that may be more or less restrictive than the requirements for the Tax Credit Scholarship. Big Shoulders Fund will continue to award thousands of scholarships every year regardless of funding for the Illinois Tax Credit Scholarship Program. On average over each of the last five years, we provided more than 5,000 scholarships to students in the Chicagoland area.
If I already receive a Big Shoulders Fund scholarship, do I automatically qualify for a Tax Credit Scholarship? If I already have a Big Shoulders Fund scholarship, am I required to apply for an SGO scholarship?
No. Tax Credit Scholarships are separate from our existing private scholarship programs and require families to apply separately. In order to receive a Tax Credit Scholarship, a family must apply to an SGO, such as the Big Shoulders Fund, and meet the income qualifications established by state law. As an organization, we remain open to a current scholarship family’s decision to apply for the Tax Credit Scholarship. We encourage families to decide which option is best for them.
Can I apply to the Big Shoulders Fund for a Tax Credit Scholarship and also apply for other Big Shoulders Fund scholarships?
We intend to retain our “one student, one scholarship” policy and so families will have to choose the single scholarship for which they would like to apply. If you do not receive the Tax Credit Scholarship, and wish to attend one of our 76 partner schools, we highly encourage you to work with the school principal to apply through our existing scholarship programs in the fall of 2018. Please contact your local school for more information about this process.
What happens next year if I am awarded a scholarship this year?
If you receive a Tax Credit Scholarship in the spring of 2018, you can use the award to attend a qualified non-public school for the 2018-2019 school year. The Tax Credit Scholarship (Invest in Kids Act) is scheduled to begin in the 2018-19 school year, and continue through the 2022-23 school year. Extension of the law beyond that date is not guaranteed. Students who are awarded scholarships in the first year must reapply each year and will have priority to receive scholarships in subsequent years, subject to income levels and availability of funding. Siblings of scholarship recipients also will have priority in subsequent years.
Do I have to use my Tax Credit Scholarship at one of the 76 Big Shoulders Fund schools?
No, as long as unrestricted funding is available, you can use your Tax Credit Scholarship at any qualifying non-public school in Region 1 or 2 (see list here). Some funding may be restricted for use at one particular school or group of schools. We anticipate that a sizable portion of our funding will be restricted to the school traditionally served by the Big Shoulders Fund, but encourage all eligible families to apply.
FAQ - Special Services
How do I know if my child is an English Learner, as defined by State of Illinois subsection (d) of Section 14C-2 of the School Code, 1.2? How do I know if my child is a gifted and talented child, as defined by State of Illinois Section 14A-20 of the School Code, 1.1? How do I know if my child qualifies for services under the Federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 2?
Please see the definitions below to see if your child qualifies. For each of these categories, there is a formal process for screening, evaluation, and implementation of services. If your child qualifies in one of these categories, you may be asked to provide additional documentation for verification purposes.
"English learners" means (1) all children in grades pre-K through 12 who were not born in the United States, whose native tongue is a language other than English, and who are incapable of performing ordinary classwork in English; and (2) all children in grades pre-K through 12 who were born in the United States of parents possessing no or limited English-speaking ability and who are incapable of performing ordinary classwork in English.
Documentation will be required to verify “English Learner” status. For more information visit: ELLs - https://www.isbe.net/Pages/ACCESS-for-ELLs.aspx
Gifted and Talented:
(105 ILCS 5/14A-20)
Sec. 14A-20. “Gifted and talented children " means children and youth with outstanding talent who perform or show the potential for performing at remarkably high levels of accomplishment when compared with other children and youth of their age, experience, and environment. A child shall be considered gifted and talented in any area of aptitude, and, specifically, in language arts and mathematics, by scoring in the top 5% locally in that area of aptitude.
(Source: P.A. 94-151, eff. 7-8-05; 94-410, eff. 8-2-05.)
Documentation will be required to verify “gifted and talented” status.
For more information about “gifted and talented,” please visit: https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Gifted-Education.aspx
Child with a disability:
A child who has a disability as determined by one of the 14 disability categories in IDEA and who needs special education and related services because of the disability; or a child aged three through nine who is experiencing developmental delay. Eligibility: The determination that a student is a child with a disability as determined by IDEA. This determination is made through comprehensive testing and requires documentation.
Documentation will be required to verify any disabilities.
For more information visit: Students with Disabilities https://www.isbe.net/Pages/Special-Education-Parent-Rights.aspx#
Please be aware that if your child qualifies in any of these categories, awards are dependent on the tuition charged at a particular school and it may not change the maximum amount of your award.