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Mayor: Chicago Schools Won't End Early Despite Dismissal of CPS Lawsuit

Despite a judge's decision Friday to toss Chicago Public Schools' civil rights lawsuit against the state, the mayor declared late Friday that classes will not end early as CPS officials had threatened.

"The children of the city of Chicago will be in school until the end of the school year," Mayor Rahm Emanuel said at news conference late Friday afternoon.

The mayor did not say where the city will get the money to keep schools open.

CPS officials had threatened to end classes three weeks early to save money if they didn’t get a favorable ruling Friday. A huge million pension bill is due in June and CPS is running out of cash.

School leaders had hoped the lawsuit would push the state and Gov. Bruce Rauner to kick in more cash for Chicago.

That didn’t happen.

On Friday, Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama dismissed the suit against the state and Rauner. In doing so, he also rejected CPS’ motion for a preliminary injunction. CPS had asked the court to order the state to stop distributing school funding in a way that Chicago says discriminates against its students.

The governor’s office said they were glad this “distraction” was over. Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis said the ruling doesn’t change the need to work with lawmakers to reform school spending.

“All it does is we get up tomorrow morning and focus on what is really important and that is getting a new school funding formula for every district in the state of Illinois,” Purvis said.

The Chicago Teachers Union also weighed in.

“Instead of a Hail Mary lawsuit built for PR purposes, the mayor and his handpicked board of education and CPS CEO should have immediately guaranteed school for the month of June through sensible use of tax increment financing and the corporate head tax,” CTU said in a statement, referring to revenue ordinances that aldermen have proposed.

The mayor was asked Friday afternoon why CPS let the threat of an early closure hang over parents, teachers and students for so long.

The mayor didn’t answer the question.

Several ways for CPS and the city to generate the money needed to avoid closing early, such as borrowing money, have been floated over the last few months, though they all carry negative consequences.

Though Judge Valderrama granted the state’s motion to dismiss CPS’ suit Friday, he also chided the state. He said the state’s argument that the city’s schools could get by with borrowing more money as “starkly out of touch with reality” and reminiscent of Marie Antoinette’s famous statement during the French Revolution: “Let them eat cake.”

After his ruling, several parents shouted their disappointment outside the courtroom.

“It’s sad that we have to cry, we have to plead, we have to beg for funding when Chicago is more than wealthy to fund our kids,” said Lottie Steel, who has a child in a West Side public school “

The civil rights lawsuit was filed by the school district in February. It alleged that Illinois has a “separate and unequal” school funding system that discriminates against the city’s mostly minority student population.

At the heart of CPS’ argument is what the state contributes to Chicago teachers’ pensions versus what it pays for teachers in the rest of the state. The state covers either all or nearly all of the retirement costs for teachers outside Chicago but only a fraction of the cost in Chicago.

CPS has increasingly criticized this funding arrangement as it stares down a $719 million payment to the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund due June 30.

CPS had counted on $215 million from the state to help pay its pension bill, but Rauner vetoed that money in December, saying it was contingent on passage of pension reform for the state that never happened. Faced with a resulting mid-year budget hole, the district chopped school budgets and mandated four unpaid days for staff. CPS officials say they’re still short $130 million.

They said closing early would have save $150 million, but the state would have docked up to $60 million because CPS would not be open the required number of days.

Becky Vevea is a WBEZ education reporter. Follow her @WBEZeducation

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