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CPS, Parents Accuse State Of 'Separate But Unequal' School Funding

The Chicago school system and five parents sued Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state of Illinois Tuesday for what they claim are “separate and unequal education funding systems.”

"Chicago’s school children are treated as second-class citizens,” said schools CEO Forrest Claypool, who announced the lawsuit from Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a high-performing school in Englewood where nearly all students are either African American or Latino. “The message from the state is clear: CPS students, overwhelmingly impoverished and of color, are not as valued as the predominantly white children in the rest of Illinois,” Claypool said.

The suit was filed in Cook County Circuit Court under the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, but makes lofty references to the 1954 United States Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, which outlawed legal segregation in schools.

CPS claims that the state has created two “demonstrably unequal” funding systems, one for Chicago and its mostly African-American and Latino student population, and another for the rest of the state, whose schoolchildren are predominately white. The suit argues that CPS receives less funding to pay for its teacher pensions and to pay for schooling overall. CPS claims that the state spends 74 cents to educate Chicago children for every dollar it spends outside Chicago.

Rauner's office says Chicago hasn't been shortchanged on his watch. In the 2016 fiscal year, Chicago received $74 million more than it should have in the face of declining enrollment, fewer low-income students and rising property values, his office said. His administration also noted a $250 million Chicago-only block grant. In all, Rauner's office asserts, Chicago took home $324 million more than any other district in Illinois.

State Education Secretary Beth Purvis also noted that a bipartisan commission convened by the governor outlined how Illinois could distribute money more fairly in a report released earlier this month. 

"Now is the time for all administrators [and] parents across the state to come together and urge the General Assembly to put a new school funding formula together that addresses the issues of both adequacy and equity," she said in an interview with WBEZ. 

But Chicago’s Chief Education Officer believes there is intentional discrimination against Chicago students. "The disparity between CPS and wealthier districts in Illinois -- it is stark, it is clear,” Janice Jackson said. “We’ve made our case over the last 18 months -- I am now convinced that it is deliberate, because it’s being maintained.”

CPS wants the courts to declare the state’s school funding and pension systems racially discriminatory and unlawful. A win in a court could force the Legislature to do what it’s has so far failed to do -- come up with a new funding system.

The Chicago Teachers Union also chimed in on Tuesday, saying the union agrees with the claim that the state’s school funding system discriminates against Chicago. But CTU President Karen Lewis also said CPS should look in mirror. The CTU long has alleged discriminatory practices by the district, such as the closing of 50 schools serving mostly black children and the firing of large numbers of black teachers.

CPS’ lawsuit is not the first to allege a discriminatory state funding system. The Urban League in 2008 sued the State of Illinois, charging that the state’s system of funding schools discriminates against minority students across Illinois. That lawsuit is ongoing and, like CPS’ suit, also argues that the state funding system violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act. The Urban League suit applies to the entire state, while CPS deals only with Chicago.

Urban League President Shari Runner said in a statement that her organization is “encouraged that others in Illinois, like the Chicago Public Schools, whose students are undoubtedly impacted by the inadequate and inequitable school funding system, see the urgency of the situation and want to see the system fixed.”

The Chicago school district began building its legal case last year amid a very public campaign to pressure the state to change how it pays for public schools in Chicago and the rest of the state. In July, they paid the law firm Jenner & Block, to work on the case, but told WBEZ it was “on ice” because the state came through with a stopgap spending plan.

Claypool last year said the district “literally had our finger on the button” to file the suit. But on June 30, lawmakers passed a budget for schools that included an additional $300 million for Chicago; $215 million of it for Chicago’s pension payment to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund.

In December, Rauner vetoed the bill that allocated the $215 million in pension help for Chicago schools, saying Democratic leaders didn’t hold up their end of a bargain to pass comprehensive pension reform for the rest of the state in exchange for the CPS money. That has led to additional mid-year cuts in Chicago.

CPS plans to vote on an amended budget, which still relies on receiving more than $100 million in new money from the state, on Feb. 22.

In the latest in an escalating war of words between Claypool and Rauner, Claypool repeated the claim that Rauner’s veto holds Chicago children hostage to his political goals.

“As governor, he cannot break the law. He cannot help perpetuate a system of racial discrimination against poor black and brown kids in Chicago,” Claypool said. “And by vetoing $215 million that was promised to CPS… he has decided to perpetuate that system, to reinforce it, to affirm it, and to continue it -- and that is what is wrong.”

Purvis said CPS is responsible for its current money woes.

“It makes no sense to blame a governor who has increased funding by $700 million in the last two years for a fiscal crisis at the Chicago Public Schools that is based on decades of mismanagement,” Purvis said.

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