Legislators, I am literally pleading with you. The children in my community need you to invest in kids and save the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. Our remaining time is short and your support for these kids is vitally important.
The story that I have etched on my heart is not unique to me or to the Southeast Side of Chicago. I share it with many. My father suffered with substance abuse and in 5th grade he lost his job. I was old enough to see the strain it was putting on my mother as she battled with how to provide for her three daughters.
I remember sitting with my mom at the kitchen table several weeks after transitioning to a one-parent household. With tears in her eyes, she said we’d have to change schools. But, somehow, she found a way for us to receive a scholarship from Big Shoulders Fund which I had never heard of before. But I knew by the smile on my Mom’s face that it was a blessing. That moment would change the trajectory of my life.
My mother, despite not having attended college herself, knew that education was the great equalizer, the one thing that once earned no one can take away from you. It was that belief that made me the first in my family to go to college, earn a master’s degree and pursue a doctorate. And then those experiences gave me the confidence that I could be the principal and CEO of my alma mater, St. Francis de Sales High School.
In my current role, I get to support students from underinvested communities and offer them an equitable education - not because they or their families have the means but because they deserve it and it needs to be done.
When I stand eye to eye with a mother, tears rolling down her face while she explains to me that she just wants the best for her son or daughter, I can tell her that it’s within her reach thanks to the Tax Credit Scholarship Program. We are changing the lives of Black and Brown students on the Southeast Side. This work matters.
The truth is our most vulnerable students would be affected by the loss of Tax Credit Scholarships. If the Illinois legislature fails to act, I will have to look into the eyes of the same mother and explain that the financial support of her child is gone. I will have to explain to the families of 55 scholarship recipients at my school, all of whom are Black or Brown, that they will no longer receive the scholarship that helped and supported them, and that reality would be more than I could personally bear.
However, a solution is now in the hands of legislators. House Bill 4194 would extend this vital program, decrease the cost to the state, and ensure that even more children from disproportionately impacted areas like my Southeast Side neighborhood have access to a scholarship.
For those who have been given the least, let us level the playing field. Our leaders should not pat them on the head and tell them don’t worry, the next generation will have it better. Their time is now and they deserve a fair shot.
Roni Facen is the Principal and CEO, St. Francis de Sales High School, Chicag
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