CPS CEO Forrest Claypool Says ‘Radical Funding Gap’ Is Unique to Chicago

Forrest Claypool
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool at a Jan. 26, 2017, Chicago Board of Education meeting. Andrew Gill / WBEZ
Forrest Claypool
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool at a Jan. 26, 2017, Chicago Board of Education meeting. Andrew Gill / WBEZ

CPS CEO Forrest Claypool Says ‘Radical Funding Gap’ Is Unique to Chicago

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One day after Chicago Public Schools sued the state and Gov. Bruce Rauner over a school funding system it says discriminates against the city’s mostly-minority students, CPS CEO Forrest Claypool predicted that his suit will succeed where others have failed.

Unlike other lawsuits alleging discriminatory state funding, including a 2008 Urban League lawsuit against the state of Illinois that is ongoing, CPS’ suit is narrowly tailored and unique, Claypool said on WBEZ’s Morning Shift on Wednesday.

“It’s very straightforward, unlike the other cases you’ve heard about around the country or even the Urban League case,” Claypool told Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia. “The facts have really developed rapidly since 2012.” 

He claims that school districts throughout the state, which on average have a higher percentage of white students, get more funding, calling it a “radical funding gap.” 

Five parents and the school board filed the suit on Tuesday, arguing 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. CPS wants the courts to declare the state’s school funding and pension systems racially discriminatory and unlawful. 

“We believe that is a very straightforward violation of the Illinois Civil Rights statute and it harms our children and threatens their future,” 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. 

In the WBEZ interview, Claypool escalated an ongoing war of words with Rauner. He dismissed the governor’s claim that Chicago gets more money — not less, as CPS asserts — than other districts as “political gobbledygook.”

CPS argues that Chicago educates 20 percent of the state’s students yet only receives 15 percent of the state’s total funding on education. The primary driver is CPS’ obligation to pay for its teacher pensions. The state pays for teacher pensions in all districts outside Chicago.

Rauner’s office contends that CPS gets more than its fair share. In 2016, his office says, Chicago received $74 million more than in the previous year, even in the face of declining enrollment, fewer low-income students and rising property values. 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.

Beth Purvis’, the governor’s point person on education, told WBEZ on Tuesday that 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.

She urged Claypool and CPS to help push for a new, more equitable funding system for Illinois. A bipartisan commission convened by the governor this month outlined how Illinois could distribute money more fairly. 

But Claypool said CPS’ lawsuit is separate from the discussions across the state about changing how Illinois pays for its public schools. 

“That’s about wealth and dollars for low income kids,” Claypool said. “We’re talking about race here. We’re talking about a system that discriminates on the basis of race.”

Chicago has to divert dollars meant for the classroom to pay for its teacher pension debt. Claypool argues the state needs to help make those ballooning pension payments like it does for the rest of the state. 

Still, Claypool told Sarabia he didn’t think there was any sinister plan behind Chicago’s treatment.

“I don’t believe that an evil person sat back in a room and devised this, but under the Illinois Civil Rights Act intent doesn’t matter,” Claypool said. “What matters is if there is a disparate impact on a protected class, and the class here is national origin, color, race. In this case, [it’s] the African-American and Latino children that we serve.”