Illinois Court Dismisses Case Against Tuition Tax Credit, Important Victory for School Choice

John Kramer
John Kramer · December 7, 1999

Washington, D.C.-In a significant victory for school choice supporters, Judge Loren P. Lewis of the Franklin County Circuit Court today dismissed the Illinois Federation of Teachers’ lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Illinois educational expenses tax credit law.

The teachers’ union had argued that the law, which provides a credit against state income taxes for 25 percent of tuition, book fees, or lab fees incurred by K-12 students at public or private schools up to a maximum of $500 per family, violated two provisions of the Illinois Constitution dealing with religious establishment. The court, however, rejected these arguments out of hand, finding that the tax credit was constitutional.

“This is a wonderful day for the parents and children of Illinois,” said Matthew Berry, staff attorney at the Institute for Justice, which represented twelve Illinois families in defending the tax credit’s constitutionality. “Because of Judge Lewis’ ruling, Illinois parents will be able to keep more of their own money to spend on the education of their children as they see fit.”

In dismissing the lawsuit, Judge Lewis relied on the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Mueller v. Allen as controlling precedent. In that case, the Court upheld the constitutionality of a Minnesota tax deduction for tuition and other educational expenses similar to the Illinois tax credit at issue here.

“While this decision may well be appealed,” Berry commented, “we are confident that it will be affirmed. The tax credit is equally available for expenses incurred at public, private, and religious schools. The law creates no incentive for parents to choose religious schools over nonreligious schools. Our clients, for example, send their children to a diverse range of schools including public, private secular, Christian, Jewish, and Muslim schools, but will all be able to take advantage of the tax credit.”

The Institute for Justice also represents Illinois families in a second lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the tax credit, filed by the Illinois Education Association and other organizations opposing education reform in Sangamon County Circuit Court. The Institute has already asked that the second lawsuit be dismissed. “Today’s decision increases the likelihood that the court will dismiss the second lawsuit as well,” said Clint Bolick, vice president and litigation director at the Institute. “It is clear from today’s decision that challenges to the tax credit are completely lacking in merit.”

This decision follows other recent courtroom victories for the school choice movement, including victories for programs in Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Arizona.

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