Chicago School Board Sues State of Illinois, Alleges ‘Separate and Unequal Funding’ for Black and Latino Students

Chicago is the only district in Illinois that funds the majority of its own pension program. Photo by M. Spencer Green/AP.

Chicago Public Schools has filed a lawsuit against the Illinois State Board of Education accusing the state of employing “two separate and demonstrably unequal systems” for funding Chicago schools, which are predominately African-American and Latino.

The suit, filed in the Cook County Chancery Division on behalf of five Black and Latino CPS families on Tuesday, Feb. 14, urges a judge to prohibit the state from disbursing state funds “in a manner that discriminates against plaintiffs,” according to the Chicago Tribune. The complaint also asks that the state be found in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act for continuing to support an unequal funding system for Illinois public schools, noting that the majority of CPS students are low-income minorities, while school districts throughout the rest of the state are largely white.

“The state treats CPS’s schoolchildren, who are predominantly African-American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the state’s education funding school bus,” the lawsuit states.

Beth Purvis, education secretary for Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner, said the state is currently in the process of reviewing the CPS lawsuit but added that the Illinois’ School Funding Reform commission just released its report recommending a boost of at least $3.5 billion in school funding over the next 10 years. Moreover, the report suggested that more dollars be spent on districts with higher numbers of low-income students. It stopped short of presenting an exact plan for state officials to follow, however.

“The governor remains focused on moving forward these recommendations and hopes that CPS will be a partner in that endeavor,” Purvis said in a statement.

In their suit, the Chicago School Board cited the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case and argued that the state violated the civil rights of minority CPS students who had already suffered through drastic budget cuts to their schools. The Chicago Sun Times reported that Chicago’s school system slashed nearly $104 million with furlough days and spending freezes and suggested a revised version of its $5.4 billion operating budget, which was still short $111 million.

The cash-strapped school district also argued that while it educates 20 percent of the state’s students and provides 20 percent of Illinois’ tax receipts, CPS students get just 15 percent of state education funding. Moreover, it is the only district in the state that funds the majority of its own pension program, according to Education Weekly. Their lawsuit states that in fiscal year 2017, CPS expects to contribute $1,891 per student for its pension payments, whereas predominately white districts outside of Chicago can expect to contribute just $86 per student to cover pension costs.

“I want to reinforce the urgency of what’s happening today, and that this really is our last stand,” said CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson. “We have hoped for a legislative solution and that has not happened. Therefore, we’re left with this as an option.”

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool, who’s been an outspoken critic of Gov. Rauner, has threatened to take legal action against the state for some time, according to the Chicago Sun Times. Last year, he reportedly hired attorneys from the law firm Jenner & Block to prepare a lawsuit. It should be noted that Claypool, who’s a former employee of the firm, is currently the subject of an investigation by the school board’s inspector general, the publication reported.

“Here, the case is simply you’ve decided to fund education, that’s fine, but you can’t do it in a discriminatory way,” Claypool said. “Yet, that’s what the state does; they choose to give far fewer dollars to Black and brown kids. And that’s not only unlawful, it’s immoral. The message the state is sending is that Black and brown poor kids in Chicago mean less than the children in the rest of predominantly white Illinois.”

In addition to Gov. Rauner, the school board’s lawsuit names the Illinois Board of Education; Rev. James T. Meeks, the chairman of the Illinois Board of Education; Tony Smith, the state’s schools superintendent; and Susana Mendoza, the state comptroller, as defendants.

Claypool expressed hope that a judge would grant the CPS’s requests for swift intervention by handing down a ruling in “months, not years.” If financial help doesn’t come soon, the Chicago schools could face additional budget cuts.


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