Saying Illinois state government has created a funding
imbalance, in part, by requiring the Chicago Public Schools to divert money
from education to fund worker pensions, when it places no similar demands on
the state’s other school districts, CPS has now asked the courts to step in and
force the state to rewrite its school funding rules.
CPS was joined by five parents of CPS students in the legal
action. The lawsuit named Ill. Gov.
Bruce Rauner; the Illinois State Board of Education and its chairman, the Rev.
James T. Meeks; Comptroller Susan Mendoza; and state school Superintendent Tony
Smith, as defendants in the action.
The complaint, filed Feb. 14 in Cook County Circuit Court, cites
the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Brown
v. Board of Education and alleges the city’s “predominantly African
American and Hispanic children still suffer from stark educational inequalities”
because the state operates a different system for funding public education in
the city, where 90 percent of students are not white.
According to the complaint, CPS enrollment — which
constitutes nearly 20 percent of all public school students in Illinois — is 38
percent African American, 47 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white. In the
remainder of the state, 58 percent of public school students are white, 12
percent are African American and 21 percent are Hispanic.
Looking at fiscal 2016, the complaint said Illinois spend 74
cents on Chicago students for every full dollar spent outside the city, broken
down as about $1.6 billion on CPS and a little more than $9 billion on all
other districts. In other words, the lawsuit alleges CPS receives 15 percent of
the state’s money to educate nearly 20 percent of its students.
The complaint also referenced the different pension funding
obligations imposed on CPS, as “Illinois does not require any other school
district in Illinois to make pension contributions at levels even remotely
comparable to those it requires of CPS. Accordingly, only CPS must divert
crucial resources from educating students to satisfying the state’s pension-funding
CPS and the parents note Rauner vetoed Senate Bill 2822 on
Dec. 1. The bill would have allocated $215 million in state funding to help CPS
meet its fiscal 2016 teacher pension payment of $721 million. In contrast, the
state paid $4 billion in the same fiscal year to the Teacher Retirement System,
which covers teachers outside the city.
The parents named as plaintiffs are Marlon Gosa, Lisa
Russell, Wanda Taylor, Vanessa Valentin and Judy Vazquez. Their African
American and Hispanic children purportedly range from sixth grade through high
Had the state funded CPS under the same laws as applied to
the rest of the state, the complaint said, it would have spent an additional
$500 million on the Chicago schools. Still, the complaint notes, seven CPS high
schools were ranked among the top 10 schools in Illinois on a 2016 U.S. News
and World Report list.
“But to balance its budget as required by state law and to
comply with the state’s statutory pension-funding mandates, CPS must furlough
its teachers and staff, freeze half of non-personnel spending and eliminate
essential professional development for teachers,” per the complaint, which adds
“those measures address only a portion of the most recent $215 million gap.”
Formal allegations are violation of the 2003 Illinois Civil
Right Act and specifically its disparate pension funding requirements. The
complaint asks the court to declare the state funding system illegal and to block
the state from disbursing funds in what they allege is a discriminatory manner.
Representing the school board in the complaint are its
General Counsel Ronald L. Marmer and First Deputy General Counsel Douglas A.
Henning. Representing all plaintiffs are attorneys from Jenner & Block LLP,
According to reports published by the Chicago Sun-Times, Marmer,
who worked for Jenner & Block until 2013, is scheduled to continue
receiving payments from the Jenner firm for at least one more year under a five-year
severance package. Those payments resulted in an investigation by CPS’
Inspector General’s office, ostensibly over whether the ties between Marmer and
Jenner & Block, and Marmer’s role in supervising the Jenner firm in
preparing the lawsuit against the state, constitute violations of ethics code.
CPS CEO Forrest Claypool also formerly worked for Jenner & Block.