Chicago School System Sues State for Allegedly Underfunding Education for Students of Color

By Kenrya Rankin Feb 15, 2017

The Board of Education of the City of Chicago filed suit against the Illinois State Board of Education yesterday (February 14), accusing the state of “separate and demonstrably unequal” funding for its students.

Chicago Public Schools (CPS) officials filed the suit with the Cook County Chancery Division on behalf of five Black and Latinx CPS families whose children attend CPS locations. The state and its governor, Bruce Rauner, are also named as defendants. Chicago Tribune reports that the legal move is just the latest battle in a war being waged between the district and the state to increase funding to CPS, where 90.1 percent of the students are people of color.

The projected budget shortfall is expected to result in reduced course offerings, decreased access to technology, fewer resources for students who are learning English, diminished capability for social and emotional support programming, reduction in staff members who enable restorative discipline practices and the loss of staffers who help students navigate the college application process.

The board’s lawsuit points directly at race as the root of the funding disparity, alleging that the state is in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003:

[Brown v. Board of Education] was intended to end the era of Jim Crow education. Although Brown’s historic holding is rightly celebrated, more than 60 years later, the reality is that a child’s race continues to dictate whether she or he will receive a good education or something far short. Chicago’s predominantly African-American and Hispanic children still suffer from stark educational inequalities. The State of 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 percent children of color, and the other for the rest of the state, whose public school children are predominantly White.

There should be no doubt about the impact of race…. In Fiscal Year 2016, the state spent 74 cents to educate Chicago’s children for every dollar the state spent to educate the predominantly White children outside of Chicago…. The state’s wrongful conduct is causing and will continue to cause irreparable harm to CPS and its students….

The suit also alleges that the state’s low funding levels require the district to divert a disproportionate amount of its budget to employee pensions. While Illinois is the primary funder for pensions across the state, it does not fill that role for CPS. The Tribune notes that the pension funding woes can be attributed in part to district officials intentionally underfunding the account for decades.

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

The suit asks the court to declare the state’s budget unlawful and prevent officials from “distributing state funds to any person or entity within the state in a manner that discriminates against plaintiffs.”

It isn’t the first time the state has been accused of discrimination. In 2008, the Chicago Urban League filed a lawsuit that alleged the same thing. The outcome of Chicago Urban League v. State of Illinois is still pending, but it did eventually prompt Rauner to create a working group charged with reforming the allocation system. Education Secretary Beth Purvis referred to it in her statement about the new lawsuit, which she says her office is still reviewing.

“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 said.

Per the Tribune:

She was referring to a recently released report by the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission that called for an increase of at least $3.5 billion in school money over the next decade. The report said more should be spent on districts with a higher population of poor students but did not provide a detailed formula for state officials to use.

There is no indication of how long it will take for the lawsuit to possibly yield a funding increase for CPS students, but the plaintiffs are hopeful. “When I talk to my principal and they tell me they have to cut this and cut that, and we can’t afford this teacher, we can’t afford that—it’s like, I can’t stand around and do nothing,” plaintiff Marlon Gosa said at the press conference. “Somebody has to stand and say something.”