Chicago Schools Calls State Funding Discriminatory

CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago’s school board sued Illinois and Gov. Bruce Rauner on Tuesday, saying the state’s funding of its school system is less than other districts in the state and discriminates against students of color.

Citing the landmark civil rights case Brown v. Board of Education, the Chicago Board of Education claims in a Cook County Circuit Court complaint that the state is violating its own Civil Rights Act by having two separate and unequal systems for funding its schools.

“The reality 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.”

The beleaguered Chicago Public Schools, or CPS – rife with corruption, threats of teachers’ strikes and budget shortfalls – has to make further cuts this year after Gov. Rauner vetoed a bill in December that would have given the district an additional $215 million in pension funding.

“The state assumes the primary responsibility for funding pensions on behalf of every school district in Illinois – except CPS,” the complaint points out.

For Fiscal Year 2017, CPS was required to spend $1,891 per student on pensions, while other districts averaged only $86, according to the lawsuit.

“Only CPS must divert crucial resources from educating students to satisfying the state’s pension-funding mandate,” the board alleges.

Overall, the complaint says, CPS receives $0.74 to every dollar in state funding going to the other districts in Illinois, where 58 percent of students are white. Chicago’s public schools serve 90 percent black, Hispanic and other students of color.

CPS receives $1.6 billion from the state compared to $9 billion distributed to the rest of the state. This amounts to 15 percent of the state’s education funding despite having 20 percent of its students, the board says.

The district has struggled with budget deficits for years, reaching $1.1 billion in Fiscal Year 2016.

Of the $5.41 billion proposed operating budget for FY17, $721 million will go towards pensions. Through drastic cuts, massive loans and raised property taxes, CPS says it has brought its deficit down to $300 million.

The cuts have lead to closed schools, teachers being forced to take furlough days, reduced course offerings, less technology available to students, and fewer English as a Second Language resources.

The board says CPS would have $500 million extra if its students received an equal level of state funding.

“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.

Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said in a statement that her department was reviewing the lawsuit.

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

Gov. Rauner said the funding report’s framework would “serve as an immediate roadmap for legislation” that would focus funding where it is most needed.

Illinois has not passed a permanent budget since Rauner took office in 2015.

The Chicago Board of Education, joined in its lawsuit by several parents of black and Hispanic CPS students, is represented by Randall E. Mehrberg of Jenner & Block LLP, and by the city’s general counsel.

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