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 mandate.” 

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 school juniors. 

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, of Chicago. 

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.

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