CPS sues governor for equal funding

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Crusader staff report

Chicago Public Schools on Tuesday, February 14, filed a lawsuit against Governor Bruce Rauner and Illinois lawmakers, saying the state violates the constitutional rights of minority students by the way it distributes state funding to school districts.

The lawsuit is the second legal complaint that accuses the state of unfairly funding Chicago Public Schools as opposed to more affluent school districts in Illinois. In 2008, the Chicago Urban League filed a similar lawsuit, although that one does not involve teacher pensions.

CPS filed its lawsuit in the Cook County Chancery Division on behalf of five Chicago Public Schools families. The suit asks that the state be barred from distributing state aid in “a manner that discriminates against plaintiffs.”

“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,” according to the lawsuit.

CPS officials announced the lawsuit at a press conference at Lindbloom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood on Tuesday, February 14.

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

In a statement, Beth Purvis, Rauner’s Education secretary, said the state is still reviewing the lawsuit.

The suit, which cites the 1954 landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, accuses Illinois lawmakers of maintaining “two separate and demonstrably unequal systems for funding public education in the State: one for the City of Chicago, whose public school children are 90% children of color, and the other for the rest of the State, whose public school children are predominantly white.”

According to the suit, CPS received 15 percent or $1.6 billion of the state’s $10.6 billion funding pool despite having 20 percent of the state’s student population.

The lawsuit also says that the state’s “separate and unequal” pension funding obligations for CPS and the state’s school districts violated the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

State leaders are still working on a solution for the state’s budget. The Senate plan contains the $215 million for CPS pensions. A separate bill to allocate additional money to school districts that serve mostly poor children has been introduced in the House. It’s the product of Rauner’s appointed bipartisan education funding commission that was created last year to address ways to close funding gaps between wealthy and poor districts.

Illinois is the worst state when it comes to equal funding for school districts. Its distribution system of school funding has been criticized as archaic and outdated.

In its lawsuit against the state in 2008, the Chicago Urban League accused the state of violating the civil rights of minority students throughout the state. The suit is still pending in Cook County Court, although there were reports several months ago that state officials were close to reaching a settlement deal.

Chicago Urban League President and CEO Shari Runner issued a statement in response to the lawsuit by CPS.

“We are encouraged that others in Illinois, like the Chicago Public Schools (CPS), whose students are undoubtedly impacted by the inadequate and inequitable school funding system, see the urgency of the situation and want to see the system fixed.”

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