On February 14, 2017, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) and five parents of CPS students filed a two-count Verified Complaint for Declaratory Judgment, Injunction and Other Relief (Complaint) in the Circuit Court of Cook County seeking to end the State of Illinois’ discriminatory education funding scheme. Plaintiffs bring their claims under the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, 740 ILCS 23/1 et seq., which prohibits the State from utilizing “criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, [or] national origin.”
The lawsuit’s defendants are responsible for perpetuating and/or administering the State’s unlawful education funding, and include Governor Bruce Rauner, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), ISBE Chairman Reverend James Meeks, ISBE Superintendent Dr. Tony Smith and Comptroller Susana Mendoza.
On May 17, 1954, the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case Brown v. Board of Education, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). Facing the realities then present in American public education, the Supreme Court concluded “in the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place.” Id. at 495. Although Brown’s historic holding is rightly celebrated, more than 60 years later, the reality is that a child’s race continues to dictate whether she or he will receive a good education or something far short.
Chicago’s predominantly African American and Hispanic children still suffer from stark educational inequalities. The State of Illinois maintains two separate and demonstrably unequal systems for funding public education in the State: one for the City of Chicago, whose public school children are 90% children of color, and the other for the rest of the State, whose public school children are predominantly white.
Thirty-eight percent (38%) of CPS students are African American, 47% are Hispanic, and 6% are other students of color (for a total of approximately 90% children of color), and only 10% are white. In contrast, for Illinois children attending public schools other than CPS, 58% are white, only 12% are African American, 21% are Hispanic, and 9% are other students of color. Among public school students in Illinois, an African American child is 11 times more likely than a white child to attend CPS, and a Hispanic child is 9 times more likely than a white child to attend CPS.
Count I — Disparate Funding
In Fiscal Year 2016, the State spent 74 cents to educate Chicago’s children for every dollar the State spent to educate the predominantly white children outside Chicago. Combining all sources of funding from the State, in Fiscal Year 2016, the State spent $1,604,828,661 on CPS. The State spent $9,012,574,633 on all other school districts. CPS, therefore, received just 15% of the State’s $10,617,403,294 in education funding, despite having nearly 20% of the students, according to Fiscal Year 2016 Illinois State Board of Education (“ISBE”) enrollment records.
Unless enjoined by this Court, the disparity will continue. In Fiscal Year 2017, the State is projected to spend $9,571,937,253 in total on other districts, and $1,734,345,898 in total on CPS. As a result, CPS again will receive just 15% of the State’s $11,306,283,151 in education funding, despite having nearly 20% of the students. And the State’s discriminatory funding is expected to get even worse.
Count II — Disparate Pension Funding Requirements
Illinois also imposes a separate and demonstrably unequal pension funding obligation on CPS. The State assumes the primary responsibility for funding pensions on behalf of every school district in Illinois – except CPS. For example, in Fiscal Year 2017, Illinois’ statutory funding obligation requires CPS to spend $1,891 per student on Chicago pensions. Over the same period, non-Chicago school districts spend only $86 per student on pensions.
In Fiscal Year 2017, CPS’ statutory funding obligation to the Chicago Teacher’s Pension Fund amounts to approximately 35% of CPS’ total teacher payroll. By contrast, in Fiscal Year 2017, non-CPS school districts will contribute only 1.5% of total teacher payroll to the Teachers’ Retirement System.
Plaintiffs are not asking the Court to dictate how the State should distribute its educational funds or asking the Court to reduce teachers’ pension benefits. Rather, Plaintiffs ask the Court to declare unlawful the State’s separate and unequal systems of funding public education in Illinois and to enjoin Defendants from perpetuating a system that discriminates against Plaintiffs.