Today, the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America, through its Institute for Public Affairs, applauded the decision of an Illinois appellate court upholding the constitutionality of that state’s educational expenses tax credit.
Last year, the Illinois Legislature enacted the state income tax credit for educational expenses, including tuition, book fees, and lab fees, incurred on behalf of K-12 students in Illinois public or private schools. Parents may receive a 25% credit for expenditures above the amount of $250, up to a maximum of a $500 credit per family. The Illinois Education Association challenged the law as an unconstitutional violation of several provisions of the Illinois Constitution. Their suit was rejected by the trial court and that ruling has now been unanimously upheld by the appellate panel.
Addressing the heart of the union’s case, that the credit violates two provisions of the Illinois Constitution dealing with religious establishment because parents may claim the Credit for expenses incurred at religious schools, the Court rejected this argument for two independent reasons. First, the Court concluded that the money claimed through the credit did not constitute public funds and thus fell outside the scope of the relevant Illinois constitutional provisions. The Court warned that reaching the opposite conclusion could have broad implications for the wide range of tax benefits provided to religious institutions under Illinois law and stated, “We are unwilling to interpret the term ‘public fund’ so broadly as to endanger the legislative scheme of taxation.”
The Court, furthermore, went on to say that the tax credit would still be constitutional even if one concluded that the money claimed through the credit constitutes public funds. In that event, the Court stated that the credit would still be constitutional under relevant U.S. Supreme Court and Illinois Supreme Court precedent because it is available on an equal basis for expenses incurred at public, private, and religious schools and all funds are directed by the private and independent choices of parents. The Court, citing to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mueller v. Allen, rejected the argument that the credit should be declared unconstitutional because the majority of credits will be claimed for expenses incurred at religious schools, holding that such statistics are irrelevant so long as the law is facially neutral.
Institute for Public Affairs director Nathan Diament stated “we are very pleased with the ruling in this case. It is a victory for school choice and parochial school family equity across the board. We assume the other side will appeal to the Illinois Supreme Court and we are confident of victory there as well.”