Cook County Record

Friday, December 13, 2019

Chicago Public Schools try again to persuade court to order fix of 'discriminatory' school funding

By Scott Holland | May 25, 2017

Chicago city hall

After their first attempt to obtain a court order to compel a rewrite of the state's education funding rules was rebuffed, the Chicago Public Schools have renewed their legal challenge, again asking a Cook County judge to force changes in a school funding system they call discriminatory.

Cook County Circuit Judge Franklin Valderrama dismissed the original complaint April 28, saying CPS’ demands – which initially included a request to shut down all state funding to Illinois school districts unless the state would give CPS what they believed was appropriate - “would inject widespread chaos into the entirety of the State’s public education system.”

“To say the State’s current scheme of funding public education is broken is to state the obvious,” Valderrama said at the time. “Plaintiffs’ complaint, however, as constituted is not the vehicle to redress this inequity.”

In reframing the complaint, CPS sharpened its focus on the impact of state pension funding rules which force CPS to divert money from education to fund worker pensions, when no similar demands are placed on the state’s other school districts.

CPS is again joined by five parents of CPS students in the legal action, which names Illinois 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 fiscal 2017, the complaint states, CPS was required to spend $1,891 per student on payments to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund. Yet in the same window, every other district in the state was obligated to contribute only $86 per student to the Teachers’ Retirement System, which funds pensions for all public school teachers in Illinois outside Chicago. The complaint said pension contributions now amount to 35 percent of CPS’ total teacher payroll. In all other districts, the rate is just 1.5 percent, the complaint asserted.

On June 30, 2016, the Illinois House amended Senate Bill 2822 to channel an extra $215 million to the CTPF, trying to lessen the impact of CPS’ required $721 million contribution. However, the complaint noted, the state is kicking in $4 billion to TRS during fiscal 2017.

The suit specifically alleged the city’s schools, which house large numbers of the state’s African-American and Hispanic students, “suffer from stark educational inequalities” when compared to Illinois’ other public districts, most of which are majority white. It said 42 percent of all black students in Illinois attend Chicago public schools, as well as 34 percent of the state’s Hispanic public school students. The complaint noted 9-in-10 CPS students are students of color.

Calling the current system “separate and unequal,” the complaint said ignoring CPS’ demands would “close the doors of the court to African-American and Hispanic children.

“Although the state has not installed signs on schoolhouse doors that say ‘Whites Only’ and ‘Colored,’ the state has used its checkbook to accomplish exactly that,” the complaint said. “The watershed rulings of Brown (vs. Board of Education) cannot be so easily undercut through patchwork funding statutes and separate systems for funding teacher pensions. …

 “The state understands and responds only to power: political power, which minorities by definition lack; and judicial power, which prohibits racial discrimination by court order. If the state’s treatment of African-American, Hispanic and other children of color is permitted to stand, if those children must simply get what they can through the political process without access to the courts, if the state’s checkbook is allowed to block the schoolhouse door, the great legacy of Brown will be written in sand.”

Under a mandate established in 2010, the state requires CPS to make annual contributions so CTPF will be 90 percent funded by 2059 and stay there from that point forward. From fiscal 2011 through fiscal 2014, the complaint said, the state paid about 0.5 percent to CTPF. But the state’s annual contribution to TRS grew from approximately 25 percent in fiscal 2011 to a projected 42 percent by fiscal 2017.

As in the initial iteration, the amended complaints asks the court to declare the state funding system illegal, to block the state from disbursing funds in an alleged discriminatory fashion and to compel the General Assembly to devise a nondiscriminatory public education funding model. This version also seeks a mandatory injunction forcing the state to allow CPS teachers to participate in TRS or to allocate teacher pension contributions in a manner than does not discriminate against CPS.

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 and Washington, D.C.

The Illinois state defendants were represented by the Illinois Attorney General’s office.

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Organizations in this Story

State of IllinoisIllinois State Board of EducationJenner & Block LLPIllinois Governor Bruce RaunerChicago Public SchoolsChicago Board of Education