Chicago School Board Files New Suit Over Funding

CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago’s Board of Education sued Illinois and Gov. Bruce Rauner in an amended complaint, saying the state’s funding of its school system discriminates against students of color, leaving Chicago’s heavily minority public schools with substantially less money than other districts.

In February, the board and several Chicago Public Schools parents filed a lawsuit claiming the state discriminates against CPS’ 90 percent students of color by distributing less money to their schools. The parents and the board asked the court to force the state into giving the district more funding.

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said that same month that Chicago schools could close three weeks early if they didn’t get the funds.

But Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin Ulyses Valderrama dismissed the board’s complaint in April.

“To say that the state’s current scheme of funding public education is broken is to state the obvious,” Valderrama said. “But plaintiffs’ complaint is not the vehicle to address this inequity.”

However, the judge granted the board permission to file an amended complaint, finding that it could still plead a cause of action under the Illinois Civil Rights Act.

In its amended complaint filed Friday, the board cites the landmark civil-rights case Brown v. Board of Education and says that inequality remains a serious problem for the city’s black and brown students.

“The reality more than 60 years later is that a child’s race continues to dictate whether she or he will receive a good education or something far short,” the board says in its lawsuit. “Chicago’s predominantly African American and Hispanic children still suffer from stark educational inequalities.”

Ninety percent of CPS students are black or Hispanic, and given the concentration of minorities in the city, 42 percent of Illinois’ black public school children and 34 percent of the state’s Hispanic public school children attend CPS schools.

Only 4 percent of the state’s white children attend CPS, even though CPS enrolls nearly 20 percent of all public school children across Illinois.

“In Fiscal Year 2017, the state is projected to spend a total of $9,571,937,253 on other school districts, and $1,734,345,898 on CPS. As a result, CPS again will receive just 15 percent of the state’s $11,306,283,151 in education funding, despite having nearly 20 percent of the students,” the lawsuit states.

In its motion to dismiss the original complaint, the state disputed these figures and said CPS received 24 percent of education funding – more money per student than other district – when pension funding is taken out of the mix.

Many, including the state, argue that the school district’s pension fund is the real problem, not any kind of racial discrimination, and Illinois says it isn’t responsible for fixing it.

Chicago is the only city in Illinois that may not participate in the state teacher’s pension plan but, by law, must maintain its own pension system.

Recently, the state decided to cut funding from Chicago’s pension system, providing $4 billion to the state pension system but only $12 million to the city’s teacher pension fund.

“As a result, only CPS is forced to divert hundreds of millions of dollars that otherwise would be used in the classroom to fund state-mandated pension costs for its teachers,” the board says.

For Fiscal Year 2017, CPS had to spend $1,891 per student on pensions, while other districts averaged only $86, according to the school board’s complaint.

These mandatory payments leave CPS with only $9,779 per student per fiscal year, much lower than the state average of $12,174 per student.

Gov. Rauner vetoed a bill in December that would have given the district an additional $215 million in pension funding, a move that CPS says is only hurting its students with more cuts.

Using drastic cuts to school programs, massive loans and higher property taxes, CPS brought its Fiscal Year 2017 budget deficit down to $300 million from a high of $1.1 billion in 2016. More than $720 million of the $5.41 billion budget is going towards pension funding.

The board seeks a declaration that the state’s “separate and unequal” pension-funding obligations are unconstitutional, and an injunction allowing CPS teachers to participate in the state teacher’s retirement system.

It is represented by Randall E. Mehrberg of Jenner & Block LLP in Chicago.

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