- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 14, 2017

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago Public Schools filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the governor and state education officials, claiming the way Illinois funds its schools violates the civil rights of the predominantly-minority student population in the nation’s third-largest school district.

The complaint, filed on behalf of black and Hispanic families who say Chicago’s schools are underfunded, seeks to have a Cook County judge declare the funding system unlawful.

The lawsuit cites the landmark Brown v. Board of Education civil rights case. It argues Illinois essentially has one way of funding Chicago schools, where 90 percent of the students are Hispanic and black, and another for the other districts statewide, which are predominantly white.

Chicago officials also argue the district is penalized since it’s the only one in Illinois where local taxpayers, not the state, help pick up teacher pension costs. The lawsuit contends that when all state funding is factored in, Chicago students receive 15 percent of Illinois’ education spending while having nearly 20 percent of the state’s students.

Chicago students, who are overwhelmingly students of color, are learning in a separate but unequal system,” Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said in a statement. “The message from the state is that their educations matter less than children in the rest of Illinois, and that is both morally and legally indefensible.”

A statement from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s office said state officials were reviewing the lawsuit.

Such school funding lawsuits aren’t unusual.

Similar lawsuits have been filed in nearly every U.S. state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. While states have often lost, legislative changes have varied.

Illinois disperses money to schools through a complex calculation that provides per-student funding that even state officials acknowledge is insufficient, causing school districts to rely heavily on local property tax revenues. There’s wide consensus that the 1997 formula is unfair with a wide spending gap between low and high poverty districts, like Chicago. But there’s little agreement on how to overhaul it and the nearly two-year state budget impasse has overshadowed other issues at the Capitol.

When asked about the lawsuit, Rauner’s office issued a statement from Secretary of Education Beth Purvis. She noted the work of a bipartisan task force on school funding and said she hopes “CPS will be a partner in that endeavor.”

Chicago‘ school system faces other serious financial problems.

Credit rating agencies have placed the district at “junk status.” The nearly 400,000-student district recently instituted a spending freeze, program cuts and furlough days because the roughly $5.4 billion budget was contingent upon $215 million in pension relief from the state. Rauner, who’s accused the district of years of fiscal mismanagement, vetoed it. State officials have also said that Chicago received hundreds of millions of dollars in block grants that other districts aren’t eligible for.

Along with Rauner, the lawsuit names State Board of Education officials and Comptroller Susana Mendoza, whose office controls Illinois’ checkbook.


Follow Sophia Tareen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sophiatareen .

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