State asks judge to toss CPS school funding suit, says system not 'hidden proxy' for race discrimination

By Scott Holland | Jul 10, 2017

The state of Illinois again has asked a Cook County judge to dismiss a Chicago Public Schools lawsuit alleging racial discrimination underlies the way the state funds K-12 public education.

In a motion filed June 30 in Cook County Circuit Court, lawyers from the Illinois Attorney General’s Office said the Chicago Board of Education’s amended complaint contains similar defects to the original version, which Cook County Judge Franklin U. Valderrama dismissed on April 28 for failure to state a claim.

According to the state, the school’s complaint relies on the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 and doesn’t state any constitutional claims. Despite additional claims, the amended complaint, which includes two counts under a different ICRA section than the original, “fails to plead facts demonstrating the required intentional discrimination.”

The root of the CPS complaint remains an assertion the Illinois Pension Code, which requires the General Assembly to appropriate money to both the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund, for CPS employees, and to the Teachers’ Retirement System, for every other district, is inherently discriminatory. According to the complaint, CPS has 20 percent of the state’s students but gets 15 percent of the funding. CPS argues the disparity balanced against its minority enrollment population results in actionable discrimination.

In its filing, the state argued legislative appropriations are not subject to judicial review under the state civil rights law. The state also said CPS’ filing reveals that, when pension funding is excluded, CPS gets $1.24 for each dollar the state spends on students outside the city.

“No overt racial classifications exist on the face of the challenged laws that would indicate intentional discrimination,” the state argued, “and nothing in the categories used by the law, such as distinctions between Chicago and the rest of the state, indicate some sort of hidden proxy for intent to discriminate based on race.”

The state acknowledged facially neutral laws can be subject to scrutiny if there is enough evidence to infer intentional discrimination, but said “such showings based on impact alone will be rare.” The school district failed on its amended complaint, the state said, because it didn’t plead factual allegations demonstrating deliberate discrimination.

According to the state, a recent federal action challenging an Illinois School Code provision allowing the mayor to appoint Chicago Board of Education members failed when the court said the equal protection clause doesn’t prohibit a state law because it is limited to a geographical or political subdivision.

“There are minority students and teachers all over the state, and the creation of a separate teacher pension system for Chicago’s teachers is hardly a sufficient proxy for race to suggest the system is motivated by a racial animus,” the state argued. “Many laws apply only to Chicago, and it is entirely rational for the Legislature to have believe that it was necessary to aggregate the pension system for hundreds of much smaller school districts into one while allowing Chicago, with its larger system and independent taxing authority, to control and fund its own.”

In attacking the validity of the amended complaint with respect to the civil rights law, the state argued the IRCA only permits claims against “the offending unit of government” and noted the Legislature is not a unit of itself. Further, it said the State Law Immunity Act, which keeps the state from being made a defendant, does not make exceptions for the IRCA.

The state also argued the CPS claims are barred by separation of powers principles because lawmakers have exclusive authority to appropriate funds, and allowing a judicial relief to CPS would violate that authority.

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