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Illinois Judge Dismisses Chicago Funding-Discrimination Lawsuit Against the State

An Illinois judge on Friday denied the Chicago school district's request to halt funding to all districts unless the state can pay for schools in a way that does not discriminate against the city's predominantly poor, Hispanic, and black students, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. 

Cook County Judge Franklin Ulyses Valderrama's ruling was a win for the state of Illinois, which had asked for the case to be dismissed. But Valderrama will allow the district to file an amended complaint by May 26.

Gov. Bruce Rauner's administration hailed the ruling in a statement.

"With this distraction behind us, we can move forward on working with the General Assembly to fix our state's school funding formula," Education Secretary Beth Purvis said. "Governor Rauner's bipartisan commission has recommended changes that will create an equitable school funding formula to better meet the needs of each student within every school district in our state. Instead of pointing fingers and blaming decades of fiscal mismanagement on a governor who has been in office for two years, CPS should be urging lawmakers to pass a balanced budget that includes changes to our education system that will better meet the needs of every student."

With Friday's decision, CPS will have to make some financially wrenching spending decisions before the school year ends. In earlier court filings, the financially-strapped district said that without court action, it would be forced to end the school year earlier than planned and that it would have to cut some summer school programs.

The district, along with five parents, sued Rauner, the state board of education, the chairman of the state board of education, the state schools superintendent, and the state comptroller in February alleging that the way Illinois funds its schools is discriminatory towards Chicago's students and has led to the creation of two separate and unequal school systems.

The lawsuit asked the court to declare the state school funding formula and the Chicago district's pension obligation unlawful and to bar the state from disbursing education funds unless a more equitable method was developed. 

The district used the state's 2003 Civil Rights Act as the basis for its funding challenge. Under the law the district does not have to prove that the state intentionally discriminates against its students, but that the result of state policies disproportionately affected a protected class based on race, color, gender, or national origin.

The district, which has lurched from one financial crisis to the next, has had to make mid-year cuts to make up for $215 million it had expected to receive from the state, but which Rauner vetoed in December. The governor's team has said that the money was always contingent on larger pension reforms in Illinois.

In addition to making millions of dollars in cuts, the district's $715 million payment to the Teachers' Pension Fund is due at the end of June.

The teachers' union, which did not support the lawsuit, said the district cannot legitimately claim to defend minority students after laying off minority educators and closing schools in predominantly Hispanic and black neighborhoods. With fewer than 30 instructional days to go before the end of the school year, the lawsuit wasted taxpayers' time and money, the union said in a statement. 

"Instead of a Hail Mary lawsuit built for PR purposes, the mayor and his handpicked board of education and CPS CEO should have immediately guaranteed school for the month of June through sensible use of tax-increment financing and the corporate head tax," the CTU said. "Yet they chose to use our students and their families as pawns in a prolonged fight with the governor."

Related stories:

Long Building, Chicago Schools' Fiscal Crisis Reaches Boiling Point

In Chicago School Funding Battles, Human Costs Are Steep

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