Illinois’ Tax Credits for Educational Expenses program was enacted in 1999 and launched in 2000 to help families afford the public, private, or home school options that fit their children’s needs. Learn more about the program’s details on this page, including eligibility, funding, regulations, legal history, and more.
Illinois allows individuals to claim a credit for educational expenses for dependent students attending a public, private, or home school.
Parents receive a tax credit worth 25 percent of their expenditures after the first $250, up to a maximum credit of $500 per family. To get the maximum $500 credit, parents must spend $2,250 on educational expenses; they also must have a state tax liability of at least $500 because the credit is nonrefundable and thus cannot reduce an individual’s tax burden to less than zero.
Educational expenses must be for students who are residents of Illinois, who are younger than 21, and have attended kindergarten through 12th grade in a public or private school in Illinois or were homeschooled. Qualified expenses include tuition, books, and lab or activity fees.
Illinois’ individual tax credit could be one of the country’s most effective school choice programs if it made some updates. On student eligibility, the program is accessible to all students statewide. Moreover, there are no unreasonable regulations placed on private schools. Those strong features are hurt, however, by the fact participants have very little funding power with a maximum available credit of just $500. Illinois could improve this program dramatically by raising the tax credit to at least the state’s average per-pupil expenditures in public schools and providing a refundable credit (similar to Alabama’s) so that lower-income families can participate. Resulting savings would improve Illinois’ budget position while offering secure, excellent educational options for children in that state.
In 1999, the Illinois Federation of Teachers, Illinois Education Association, and the People for the American Way brought two lawsuits in state court arguing the program violated the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and religion clauses of the Illinois Constitution. Illinois appellate courts upheld the programs, and the Illinois Supreme Court refused to grant appeals. Toney v. Bower, 744 N.E.2d 351 (Ill. App. 4th Dist. 2001), appeal denied, 195 N.E.2d 573 (Ill. 2001); Griffith v. Bower, 747 N.E.2d 423 (Ill. App. 5th Dist. 2001), appeal denied, 755 N.E.2d 477 (Ill. 2001).