By Dan McGrath

It wasn’t their intention, but the Leo Lions stole the show at a recent pep rally. 

The rally in question was held at St. Sabina on Wednesday, Sept. 13. Its purpose was to call attention to the danger of the Invest in Kids Act being legislated out of existence. The Invest in Kids Act is responsible for tax credit scholarships, which afford Illinois youngsters from disadvantaged backgrounds an opportunity to attend private schools, including Leo, on full or partial scholarships.

More than 30 Leo students receive tax credit scholarship assistance.

Funding for the program comes from donations to various scholarship-granting organizations, including the Big Shoulders Fund and Empower Illinois. Donors receive a credit of up to 75 percent on their State of Illinois income tax. Enacted in 2017, the Invest in Kids act is due to expire on Jan. 1, 2024 unless the legislature extends it.

Opponents of the measure say it favors private schools by funneling money away from public schools that are in desperate need of consistent funding. 

 About a dozen schools that are recipients of tax credit scholarship dollars took part in the rally, which was sponsored by Big Shoulders, the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Catholic Schools and Empower Illinois. It bore a distinct Leo imprint.

The world-renowned Leo Choir, now 20-plus voices strong, opened by singing the Star Spangled Banner and two additional songs.

Leo Principal Shaka Rawls served as MC and delivered opening remarks, noting that the opportunity to attend the high school of his choice–Leo–started him on his path toward a career as an educator.   

Seniors Zion Cornell-Strickland and Theauntae Jones and freshman Ian White-Holmes offered personal accounts of how the tax-credit scholarship has made it possible for them to attend Leo and receive the benefits of a Leo education in the safe, nurturing learning environment Leo offers. “I never saw my mother happier than when she was notified we got the scholarship,” Jones said. “It meant that I could continue at Leo. It’s the best place for me.”

Father Michael Pfleger, St. Sabina’s senior pastor, delivered the keynote speech and said allowing the scholarship program to expire would be another slap at the poor and the disadvantaged.

“Especially people of color,” Father Pfleger said. “They’re entitled to a quality education at the school that best fits their needs.

“The legislators need to take the politics out of it and do the right thing.”