Chicago Public Schools

Chicago Public Schools Sues Illinois, Alleging ‘Unequal' Funding Violates Students' Civil Rights

The Chicago Public Schools Board of Education, along with five parents of CPS students, filed a lawsuit Tuesday accusing the state of Illinois of violating students’ civil rights by perpetuating an unequal funding system.

“Chicago students, who are overwhelmingly students of color, are learning in a separate but unequal system,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a release. “The message from the State is that their educations matter less than children in the rest of Illinois, and that is both morally and legally indefensible.”

The lawsuit, filed in Cook County Circuit Court, names the State of Illinois, Governor Bruce Rauner, the Illinois State Board of Education, ISBE Chairman Reverend James Meeks, ISBE Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith and Comptroller Susana Mendoza as defendants.

Citing the 1954 Supreme Court decision in the case of Brown vs. Board of Education, the complaint alleges that Illinois “maintains 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.”

The lawsuit states that 38% of CPS students are African-American, 47% Hispanic and 6% other minorities – while students at public schools in Illinois outside Chicago are just 12% African-American, 21% Hispanic and 9% other students of color.

Despite educating nearly 20% of children in Illinois, the lawsuit claims that the Chicago Public Schools district received just 15% of the state’s more than $10.6 billion in funding over the course of Fiscal Year 2016.

That total that breaks down to 74 cents spent on educating each child in Chicago for every dollar spent on children across the state, according to CPS.

Additionally, the complaint alleges that Illinois imposes an unequal burden on CPS with regards to pension funding, saying that the state requires the district to spend $1891 per student on pensions in FY 2017 – compared to $86 per student in districts outside Chicago, where Illinois picks up a larger share of the funding obligation.

Because of these disparities, CPS maintains that the state is in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, which prohibits the state from utilizing “criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, [or] national origin.”

“Since action has not been taken to end the separate and unequal education system in this State, Chicago is taking matters to the courts,” Chicago Board of Education President Frank Clark said in a statement. “The State has been underfunding Chicago students for far too long, and the students, parents and educators deserve better. We will ask the court to take swift action to end this discrimination.”

The lawsuit is the latest development in an ongoing battle between CPS and Rauner, who vetoed a bill in December that would have injected the district with an additional $215 million in state funding to meet its June 30 teacher pension payment.

Based on that veto, CPS announced the institution of a spending freeze on $46 million of non-salary funds on Feb. 6.

At the time of the cuts, a spokesperson for Rauner said financial assistance for CPS would be dependent on “comprehensive pension reform.”

“Twenty years of financial mismanagement by the city cannot be blamed on someone trying to put Illinois on the right fiscal path,” the governor’s office said in a statement. “Rather than cutting services and pointing fingers, we should all be working together to pass this comprehensive pension reform agreement immediately.”

“We have just received the lawsuit and are reviewing it,” Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said in a statement Tuesday afternoon. “But it is important to remember that the bipartisan, bicameral school funding commission just issued its report, which recommends an equitable school funding formula that defines adequacy according to the needs of students within each school district. The Governor remains focused on moving forward these recommendations and hopes that CPS will be a partner in that endeavor.”

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