CPS, Parents Claim Civil Rights Violations in New Suit Against State

Chicago Public Schools and five local families announced Tuesday they have filed suit against the state of Illinois in an effort to force equitable funding for the cash-strapped school district.

The case seeks to declare the state’s “separate and unequal education funding systems” illegal, claiming they violate students’ civil rights under Illinois law, according to CPS officials.

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CPS CEO Forrest Claypool and Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson said Tuesday they had sought a legislative fix to this system from Springfield over the past 18 months. But because that goal has not been reached, this suit represents the district’s “last stand.”

“I’m not here to point fingers or place blame, we are here to fight on behalf of our children,” Jackson told media inside Lindblom Academy Tuesday afternoon, “because the disparity between CPS and wealthier districts in Illinois is stark, it is clear ... I am now convinced it is deliberate because it is being maintained.”

The suit is being filed in the Chancery Division of Cook County Circuit Court, which Claypool said was done in the hope that it can be resolved within months, not years.

The district claims under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, the state may not “utilize criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color [or] national origin. If the burdens of a State policy fall disproportionately on members of particular racial groups, the State must advance a weighty justification.”

Ninety percent of Chicago Public School students are children of color.

Claypool has repeatedly talked of a possible suit against the state following Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of $215 million in state funding the district had anticipated in its fiscal year 2017 budget. The suit seeks to keep Rauner and the state from distributing funding in a “discriminatory way” and declare Illinois’ teacher pension funding systems unlawful under the Civil Rights Act.

“The reality is that a child’s race continues to dictate whether she or he will receive a good education or something far short,” the complaint states. “Chicago’s predominantly African American and Hispanic children still suffer from stark educational inequalities.”

CPS says the state has implemented two education systems: one for Chicago’s predominantly black and Hispanic students, and another for white children outside the city.

In the complaint, CPS claims the state spends about 25 percent less to educate Chicago students as it spends on the rest of students across the state – and says the state carries out unfair pension requirements.

CPS is the only district in the state required to fund its own pension payments. The district claims it will spend nearly $1,900 per student on Chicago pensions this year, while the rest of Illinois school districts will spend just $86.

“I am not sitting idly by as another generation of black boys fall prey to the impact of insufficient opportunity,” said Wanda Taylor, a parent of a Lindblom Academy student, who joined CPS in the suit. “The state’s discriminatory funding formula does not grant all of our children the resources they need to live successful lives; now, we take our stand against this injustice.”

Biographies of each of the five parents are available on the CPS website.

Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis told Chicago Tonight on Tuesday afternoon she has not yet had a chance to review the suit, but noted the state’s School Funding Reform Commission filed a report recently that also calls for an equitable school funding formula.

“Since coming into office Gov. Rauner has increased school funding for pre-K through 12th grade by more than $700 million, so we are at record levels of funding for all districts, including the Chicago Public Schools,” Purvis said. “I really think it’s important that we focus on how to continue to improve school funding and use the School Funding Formula framework to move things forward.”

But Claypool called that framework “a separate matter,” pointing to previous state commissions and reports which have done nothing to fundamentally change the way schools are funded in Illinois.

Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis called the suit a “fake fight” between Rauner and Mayor Rahm Emanuel during a press conference where she outlined progressive revenue streams for CPS to pursue. Union members have called on the district to find new money to fund its schools, and earlier this month passed a resolution calling on Claypool to resign his position.

While community activists, parents and district officials stood inside the Lindblom library in support of the suit, dozens of students packed a nearby staircase, calling for Claypool’s dismissal and telling media they were scared for their futures in the face of continuing cuts.

“I understand that they are upset,” Claypool said, adding he planned to meet with some of those students Tuesday afternoon. “I’m glad to see they’re active and want to do something about it.”

Follow Matt Masterson on Twitter: @byMattMasterson

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