Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. REUTERS

Chicago Sues State Over 'Separate and Unequal' School Funding

The city of Chicago’s Board of Education is suing the state of Illinois and Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner over “separate and unequal systems of funding for public education in Illinois” that has resulted in discrimination against Chicago Public Schools (CPS) children.


“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 bus,” according to the suit.

Filed on behalf of five parents of Chicago Public Schools (CPS) parents, the lawsuit also states, “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 city breaks down mathematically exactly how the school funds were allocated for Fiscal Year (FY) 2016 and how they are planned to be spent for FY 2017.

For FY 2016, Illinois spent 74 cents on Chicago schoolchildren for every dollar spent on the education of the state’s other, predominantly white children. An estimated 15 percent of the state’s education budget went to Chicago schools, despite Chicago having about 20 percent of the state’s students. The same unequal distribution is slated for FY 2017.

In a press release CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said the state’s allocation of funds sends a message that Chicago’s schoolchildren are not valued by the system.

“Chicago students, who are overwhelmingly students of color, are learning in a separate but unequal system,” Claypool said. “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.”

Frank Clark, president of the Chicago Board of Education, called on the legal system “to take swift action to end this discrimination.”

“Since action has not been taken to end the separate and unequal education system in this State, Chicago is taking matters to the courts,” he said. “The State has been underfunding Chicago students for far too long, and the students, parents and educators deserve better.”

Beth Purvis, the state’s education secretary, said the governor is currently reviewing a recently released report from the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission, “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,” Purvis said.

Gov. Rauner created the bipartisan Commission in July 2016 to address the state’s current formula for distributing funds. The group’s report, released on Feb. 1, states, “On average, the state’s school districts with the greatest number of low-income students receive 20% less funding than wealthier districts.”

In reference to a new formula, the Commission recommends, “The funding formula will allocate additional resources as needed for children with disabilities, children who are English learners, children who live in families that are considered low-income, and children who live in areas of concentrated poverty.”

According to U.S. Census data, Chicago is 32.9 percent Black, 31.7 percent white and 28.9 percent Hispanic, and 22.3 percent of the city is in poverty. The state of Illinois, in contrast, is 61.9 percent white, 14.7 percent Black and 16.9 percent Hispanic, and 13.6 percent of state residents live in poverty.

In December Gov. Rauner vetoed a bill proposed by Emanuel’s administration that would have provided CPS an additional $215 million for pension funds because the bill didn’t include pension reforms. As a result, CPS had to enact an estimated $68 million in budget cuts and spending freezes. These cuts led to “real and irreparable harm” for CPS schoolchildren, the lawsuit says.

CPS CEO Claypool said the governor is “adoptingDonald Trump’stactics of attacking vulnerable citizens in order to score political points.”

Mayor Emanuel said that the veto caused harm to “the city of Chicago and the teachers, the taxpayers and most importantly the kids.”

“Under the clause in the Civil Rights Act for the state of Illinois, that can’t happen,” Emanuel said. “And the point of the lawsuit is, under the civil rights clause of the state of Illinois, the way education is funded is in violation of the civil rights of our children.”

Parents of CPS students named as plaintiffs on the suit agree that the current allocation of funds not only signals that their children are valued as less than students in more affluent areas but it also puts a cap on their potential.

“As a mother of diverse learners, I have seen how Governor Rauner’s cuts have impacted our most vulnerable students,” said Vanessa Valentin, who has two children in CPS. “My children have the benefit of attending excellent schools, with wonderful staff and supportive cultures, but the state’s discriminatory funding system has put a cap on their potential. So many more of our children would find a productive place in this world if they just had the resources they deserve, and that is why we are demanding an end to this inequity.”

“Despite our community’s endless creativity and commitment to overcomethe state’s funding failure, it’s an inescapable fact that our kids don’t have access to the basic resources needed for a fair shot at a successful life,” Judith Vazquez, who has three children in CPS and serves as the chair of the Clemente Local School Counsel, said. “Governor Rauner needs to decide if he believes my kids deserve a chance to succeed. Right now, his actions suggest he doesn’t.”

Illinois School Funding Reform Commission Report’s Recommendations

In outlining a new strategy for distributing funds, the Illinois School Funding Reform Commission suggests in its report the creation of an “adequacy target,” which will be determined in part by “student count, the number of students living in poverty as determined by the Department of Human Services, concentration of poverty, and the diverse learner population in each district.”

The Commission also presents three strategies to provide more resources for students in low-income and poverty-concentrated areas, which the Commission believes is necessary for this student population. Per the report:

elements could provide increased funding for low-income students and students living in concentrated poverty

using enrollment instead of average daily attendance may increase funding to schools with large low-income student populations or populations of students in concentrated poverty

the distribution formula could direct additional funds to districts based on poverty concentration

Additionally, the report provides recommendations for students currently learning English and students with disabilities. Further, the Commission asks for transparency in its funding formula “in a way that is understandable to the average person.”

The report describes Illinois’ school funding system as having “been broken far too long.”

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