FILE - remote learning, Illinois, Virus Outbreak Virtual School Rules

A Chicago charter school teacher Angela McByrd works on her laptop to teach remotely from her home in Chicago, Thursday, Sept. 24, 2020. 

(The Center Square) – Opponents of school choice in Illinois who say extending public funding to religious schools would be a violation of the separation of church and state were dealt a blow by the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The court last week said that Maine cannot exclude religious schools from a tuition assistance program. The decision invalidates provisions in 37 state constitutions that bar the direct or indirect use of public dollars for religious schools.

“Maine’s ‘nonsectarian’ requirement for its otherwise generally available tuition assistance payments violates the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote for the majority.

Leslie Hiner, vice president of legal affairs for the organization EdChoice, said Illinois does have a school choice program funded by donors.

“In Illinois you do have a tax credit scholarship program that has been operating for the last couple years, and it's growing, which is a good thing,” said Hines.

The Invest in Kids scholarship program, which was created in 2017, gives a 75% tax credit to donors who fund a school choice program. The program is set to expire at the end of 2023.

recent measure the governor signed gives students already enrolled in the program priority and gives schools more flexibility in offering partial scholarships.

Despite sending his own children to private schools, Gov. J.B. Pritzker has voiced opposition to private school vouchers and charter school expansion. His effort to eliminate $14 million in tax credit scholarships for low-income students in the program failed, and state lawmakers instead preserved the program for another year.

Staff Reporter

Kevin Bessler reports on statewide issues in Illinois for the Center Square. He has over 30 years of experience in radio news reporting throughout the Midwest.