Private tuition deal OKd
May 13, 1999
BY DAVE MCKINNEY AND MATT ADRIAN SUN-TIMES SPRINGFIELD BUREAU
SPRINGFIELD–Parents who send their children to private or parochial schools could get $500 tax credits under legislation that passed the Illinois House on Wednesday amid constitutional concerns.
Gov. Ryan, who went to the House floor to watch the bill pass 62-52, immediately promised to sign the measure, which already has cleared the Senate. That is sure to set in motion a legal challenge from civil libertarians and teachers unions.
“Fairness and opportunity mean extending a hand to all of our kids, including those in private and parochial schools. And this bill does that by giving parents the ability to send their kids to the school of their choice,” said Ryan, who campaigned for the tax credit.
Parents must spend $250 on tuition or other school-related costs, such as books or lab fees, to qualify and can get as much as $500 in tax credits if they spend $2,250.
State revenue officials estimate that the program, previously approved by the Senate, will cost the state’s treasury at least $50 million annually and provide 100,000 families with some credit on their income taxes.
Ryan and other supporters, including Cardinal Francis George, said the credit was necessary to soften the blow of rising tuition costs on parochial-school parents.
“The action taken by the General Assembly is an important initial step toward helping those parents who choose to send their children to non-government schools and who often struggle to pay tuition that is sometimes 10 percent of their income,” George said in a statement.
George and others said the measure could ensure that financially ailing parochial schools in Chicago remain open.
“If these people see light at the end of the tunnel, it may give them the spirit to continue the fight,” said Rep. Kevin McCarthy (D-Tinley Park), the bill’s chief House sponsor.
The plan was fought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Illinois Federation of Teachers and the Illinois Education Association.
They said the plan violates the constitutional doctrine separating church and state and did not apply equally to public school parents because of the $250 spending requirement to qualify for any benefit.
“I believe the provisions of this bill advance the cause of religion,” said House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie (D-Chicago).
An ACLU spokesman said the organization was prepared to file a lawsuit to block the law once Ryan signs it. The IEA, the state’s largest teachers union, also promised to join in a legal fight.
“We think the bill, first and foremost, is a direct violation of the Illinois Constitution, which prohibits public funds going to sectarian purposes,” ACLU lobbyist Mary Dixon said.
How school tax break will work
Highlights of the tuition tax credit proposal now on its way to Gov. Ryan:
* Parents can receive the maximum $500 credit on state incomes taxes (a reduction in the tax bill) if they spend at least $2,250 in tuition, book fees or lab fees.
* To qualify for any benefit at all, parents must spend at least $250 on tuition or other school-related costs, such as books or lab fees–but the credit is only a few dollars at that level. The benefit increases as expenses increase to $2,250.
* Program takes effect next January.
* Technically, the tax break applies to expenses at public as well as private schools. Since the credit is minimal once it kicks in at $250 in expenses, it won’t provide a substantial break for most public school families.