Parents Go to Court as Illinois School Funding Crisis Deepens

CHICAGO (CN) – Chicago parents sued the Illinois Board of Education on Thursday over the ongoing school funding crisis, as state lawmakers face another showdown with Gov. Bruce Rauner.

Chicago Public Schools released a $5.7 billion budget Friday that includes $269 million in funding from the city – but it is unclear where this money will come from.

To make matters worse, CPS’s budget relies on $300 million in extra funding allotted to it by the state’s Democratic Legislature. But this funding was vetoed by Republican Gov. Rauner on Aug. 1. Without any help from the state, CPS faces a deficit of $544 million.

Even if it gets the requested funds, CPS will still be running a significant deficit. The district announced last week that it will lay off almost 1,000 employees, including 350 teachers, due to a shortage of funds.

Although state legislators passed a budget last month after overriding the governor’s veto – the state’s first budget in more than two years – schools cannot receive funding until lawmakers pass an education-aid distribution bill.

Illinois schools are funded primarily by property taxes, and therefore CPS relies on significant additional help from the state to serve students in some of the state’s poorest neighborhoods.

The state has one of the largest gaps in the country between spending at wealthy versus poor school districts.

The bill Gov. Rauner returned to the legislature for approval eliminated extra protections for CPS and altered the school funding formula to limit its impact on property-poor areas throughout Illinois. Legislators must decide whether to accept these revisions, or pass a veto-proof bill.

In a complaint filed late Thursday in Cook County Circuit Court, Chicago parents Lisa Kulisek, Amy McNeil, and Marybeth Linse sued Illinois Comptroller Susana Mendoza and the Illinois Board of Education over the state’s failure to release state education funds.

“In recent weeks, each of the major political parties have accused the other of playing politics with school funding reform, but the law as set forth in SB 6 requires that the General State Aid funds appropriated by the legislature be allocated using an evidence-based funding model,” the complaint states. “Any other approach would be contrary to law.”

The parents say the situation is made more dire by the state’s delay in releasing funds for fiscal year 2017, which ran through June 2017, due to the budget crisis.

The limited cash flow threatens “the stability of Illinois’ school districts and [their] ability to fund critical programs such as special education, transportation, and free and reduced-price lunches,” they claim.

The parents’ suit echoes claims made by Chicago’s Board of Education in a May lawsuit against Illinois and Gov. Rauner over alleged inequities in the state’s apportionment of education funds.

The city claims that Chicago receives just 15 percent of the state’s $11 billion in education funding, despite having nearly 20 percent of the state’s total students.

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.

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.

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.

The Chicago parents seek an injunction barring the state from adopting a non-evidentiary based school funding model. They are represented by Christopher B. Wilson with Perkins Coie.

Illinois Board of Education spokesperson Jackie Matthews declined to comment on the lawsuit.

The comptroller’s office did not immediately respond Friday to a request for comment.

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