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New lawsuit on school funding inequities

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* As I told subscribers today, a new lawsuit is about to be filed against the way the state funds schools. The Sun-Times editorialized in favor of it today

The new lawsuit charges that the [school funding] system violates the equal protection clause of the Illinois Constitution because it forces homeowners in poor communities to pay higher property tax rates than owners of homes of similar value in more affluent areas.

It’s an interesting tactic, based on the state Constitution’s equal protection clause…

No person shall be deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law nor be denied the equal protection of the laws.


By law, the state each year establishes a “foundation level” of funding. Depending on property values, communities rely on different tax rates, along with state aid, to get there.

A $200,000 home in the south suburban Homewood-Flossmoor school district, for example, was taxed at a rate of 4.1 percent in 2006 while a home of the same value in the north suburban New Trier district was taxed at a rate of 1.7 percent. And, at the end of the day, New Trier spent about $3,400 more per student.

This lawsuit differs from all other suits filed anywhere in the country by using the equal protection language. The Urban League filed suit in 2008 based on violations of state anti-discrimination laws…

The [new] suit, filed on behalf of taxpayers by the nonprofit Business and Professional People for the Public Interest and the law firm of Sidley Austin, applies a novel legal approach. Nationally, most other suits resemble the Urban League’s. The remaining claim in that suit alleges that Illinois’ funding system discriminates against black and Hispanic students.


* And now, your legislative roundup…

* Developer considers next step for hobbled STAR bond plan: Rebecca Rausch, a spokeswoman for University Town Center Development, said its representatives would meet today in Springfield with aides to Gov. Pat Quinn and officials from the Illinois Department of Revenue.

* Bill would let school districts join forces to produce, sell energy

* Anti-motorcycle helmet law logic lacking

* Senator Don Harmon Wins Approval of Bill to Limit Cable TV Contracts to 2 Years: the bill would limit cable and video service contracts to a two-year contract instead of [the current] one-year.

* Bill preventing employers from checking job seekers’ credit scores passes Ill. House committee

* Phony cigarettes are a real threat, say Illinois health advocates

* Rep John Bradley Wins Approval of Plan to Draw Child Psychiatrists to Southern Illinois

* House passes Rose’s bill on victims, family testifying at sentencing

* State Senate OKs study of 150-mph trains

* House rejects judicial experience standard

posted by Rich Miller
Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:31 am


  1. Please show me to the $200,000 home in the New Trier school district. I am ready to pay cash to purchase that home today!

    Comment by Anon Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:37 am

  2. It may not succeed, but the courts might be the only ones to get Illinois on the right track in regard to school funding.

    Every single legislator thinks only about how any new funding plan will affect their schools.

    None will allow their funding to go down, so you need a “hold harmless” provision to ensure nobody’s funding goes down.

    What that means, then, is you need more revenue so you can spend enough to bring those lower-resource districts up to where they should be.

    More revenue.

    Paging Michael Madigan.

    More revenue.

    Paging Tom Cross.

    Comment by George Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:40 am

  3. If you accept the logic of invalidating school funding differentials derived by differences in the property tax base, would it be legal to fund anything based on property taxes?

    Are differentials in police, fire, garbage pick-up, construction permits, somehow acceptable if differences in education spending aren’t?

    Comment by Carl Nyberg Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:42 am

  4. Carl Nyberg raises a good point, unfortunately, as I’m hoping this lawsuit will succeed.

    Walk into New Trier and then walk into a low-income neighborhood school and tell me with a straight face that public education funding is equitable.

    Comment by Robert Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:48 am

  5. Again, more money does not produce better education outcomes. this has been proven. democrats, rev meeks et al. need to stop lying about this.

    Comment by Will County Woman Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:50 am

  6. Household income in Illinois has held about constant since 1991, right?

    Public sector employees, including teachers, have been getting pay raises for 20 years. The people paying the taxes haven’t been getting pay raises.

    Teachers, relative to others with BAs and MAs have seen their pay and pensions improve.

    The idea that underfunding schools is driving the problem is highly questionable.

    Schools are where we detect the differential between kids from dysfunctional families and dysfunctional communities and students from higher functioning families and communities. The schools contribute in ways to the differential, but they are not the proximate cause.

    If someone has a plan that makes sense to improve education, make the case. If the plan makes sense, it won’t fail b/c there isn’t money to implement it. It may fail because interest groups involved with education oppose it. But it won’t fail because the voters are unwilling to pay for innovation in education.

    But if the teachers, administrators and parents want more money to continue doing the same thing so teacher salaries can go up from year to year while private sector income stagnates and declines… they may be able to flex their political muscle to get it, but at some point there will be a backlash.

    Comment by Carl Nyberg Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:54 am

  7. So we’ve discovered that two different homes in different towns in different school districts pay differing amounts of school taxes and have differing tax percentages?

    Someone is surprised by this and thinks it is unfair? Where do they think we live, LegoLand?

    No. We expect education to be decided by parents, teachers, school districts and children - not a judge or a bureaucrat. Not a politician or a president. Why? Because these “experts” don’t know anything about you, your kids, your house, your income, your values, your politics, your beliefs, your family, your history, NOTHING. It is better for people to reach conclusions based on what it is they know than it is to expect a stranger with power to know everything, because no one knows everything!

    Societal decisions are best decided by each and every one of us - not some elitist group of supposed experts who specialized in an infinitesimal fraction of the knowledge needed to run a society.

    Sorry, but trying to equalize outcomes only produces more inequity and robs us of our freedoms. Hasn’t this week taught you folks anything about how NOT to run governments?

    Comment by VanillaMan Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:56 am

  8. what Carl Nyberg said.

    and there are often inequities in the services he listed within
    a taxing jurisdiction. if we want to play the game of
    determining what the return is on dollars taxed it will
    get very ugly.

    Comment by Amalia Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 10:57 am

  9. It would be my guess that if this suit reaches the state supreme court, it will rule as it always has… school funding is a legislative matter, not a judicial matter.

    Comment by Retired Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 11:00 am

  10. Robert, the quality of education available in Illinois is inequitable.

    Having covered Proviso Township High School for years (good tax base, high per pupil spending and low test scores) I have seen that communities that are unwilling to fight for quality schools do have crappy schools, even when those communities have resources that exceed adequate.

    Proviso is a particularly dysfunctional community. I can argue that Proviso Township High Schools (District 209) is the worst district in the state and among the worst in the country when one takes into account the spending level (about top ten in the state) and test scores (in the bottom ten). So, I try to remember that Proviso is an anomaly in its suckitude.

    I have come to the conclusion, people want to have good school districts, mediocre school districts and crappy school districts.

    It wouldn’t take much effort to make many of the mediocre and weak school districts better. The teachers aren’t making the effort. The unions aren’t making the effort. The parents aren’t making the effort. The taxpayers aren’t making the effort. The Cook County State’s Attorney isn’t making the effort. The legislators, like Sen. Lightford and Rep. Yarbrough, aren’t making an effort. The State Board of Education is also not making the effort.

    If nobody who is a stakeholder is doing more than the minimum to fulfill their obligations that allow them to continue getting paid, what conclusion should be drawn?

    My conclusion: people are mostly OK with the schools performing at the level their at. Or, at least they believe it’s not going to get better, so they don’t make an effort.

    If I had kids in school, I’d want to move away from people who accepted mediocrity and worse. I guess I’m an Oak Park elitist at heart.

    But I don’t think dumping a bunch more money into salaries for teachers and administrators is going to improve education. And I think the people who say they believe this are mostly teachers, administrators and people trying to hold the Democratic Party coalition together.

    Comment by Carl Nyberg Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 11:10 am

  11. Nice spin Rich. Harmon’s bill “limits to two years” sure. In reality it increases consumers inability to choose a more competitive service or locks them into a contract for an extra year.

    Comment by The Fox Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 11:11 am

  12. Where does the State of Illinois control where residents choose to live?

    On that New Trier Township home: BUY BUY BUY!

    Comment by Brennan Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 11:18 am

  13. Someone needs to read:

    THE COMMITTEE FOR EDUCATIONAL RIGHTS et al., Appellants, v. JIM EDGAR, Governor of the State of Illinois, et al., Appellees.
    Opinion filed October 18, 1996.

    Court’s already ruled on the equal protection issue. Doesn’t mean the justices won’t change their minds, but that’s usually a tougher sell.

    Comment by Michelle Flaherty Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 11:50 am

  14. What’s wrong with the legislation on judicial experience? From what I’ve seen, some judges could use a little more experience before taking the bench.

    Comment by Champaign Dweller Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 12:24 pm

  15. Actually, I’ve thought that “standardizing” school funding for the majority of resources always made sense.

    There really hasn’t been much discussion of the only way this could practically work since 70-80% of school spending is for salaries and benefits; a universal salary and benefit schedule for teachers, administrators, and staff throughout the state.

    That would pretty much make all those individual “Education Associations” in each district (read IEA/IFT) obsolete.

    While we’re at it, why not adopt a civil service grade schedule for teachers, staff, and administrators based on State of Illinois schedules, such as the ISBE? Raises wouldn’t be based on just seniority and education anymore, it would be necessary to EARN an increase in grade.

    From what I’ve seen of state employee salaries and benefits, I’d have a hard time saying that they’re excessive or unfair.

    I’ve also always thought it was patently unfair for a poor to mediocre English teacher in New Trier, whose students’ parents can afford daily tutors for their kids to make up for instructor deficiencies,to be paid %150K when a hard working teacher in Chicago who is a “life changer” is only paid $50K.

    It’s a simple equation.

    Equal revenues = Equal pay for equal work (regardless of seniority)

    How hard do you think our friends in the IEA and IFT will fight THAT, Rich?

    Comment by PalosParkBob Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 12:28 pm

  16. Nyberg, the difference is this:

    Article X, Section 1 of the IL State Constitution:
    The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.

    Comment by SkokieMan Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 12:41 pm

  17. The cable lobby now has Senator Harmon in their pocket. What is wrong, from a consumer standpoint, with a one year contract?
    Several years ago the cable compananies came out with a bill that the sponsor said was consumer friendly in the House. i capped the monthly fine for late payment at $5.00 per month. This raised the penalty for late payment of your cable bill! Yet it too was proposed to be consumer friendly!
    Obviously the Dish network is worrying the cable since they are losing their monoplies!

    Comment by Tom Joad Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 12:45 pm

  18. Skokieman, the court’s ruled on that issue too.

    Comment by Michelle Flaherty Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 12:49 pm

  19. 1. Any candidate who supports this bs is finished on the north shore. Education is a top issue here and we have zippo interest in bailing out failed political hacks elsewhere.

    2. It’s not the north shore’s fault the chicago public schools are cesspools for corruption and incompetence. Over the last 24 hours john kass and the cps union boss have informed us that cps has spent money on a pr firm (huh?), 2 law firms, has a corrupt admissions process, and is a patronage dumping ground for the black legislative caucus. clean up your own messes and hold your own leaders accountable works for us.

    3. There is no such thing as a 200k house in new trier. sorry, next. the average house of a new trier parent costs 1,000,000. Unless you are failed democrat candidate dan seals and go 6 years without a job, it’s hard to live in a house like that and be a trevian.

    4. For real illinoisans, the kind that pay taxes, are honest, can’t find springfield on a map and don’t care about inside baseball the real issue here that is never discussed is the quality of public education. that needs to be the focus. these numbers games ignore the reality that john kass noted this morning that most of these teachers outside of new trier, lake forest, glenbrook north, a few magnet schools, stink.

    Comment by shore Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 1:15 pm

  20. The people who are saying that there are no $200,000 homes in Wilmette are daft.

    I just checked and saw 15 condos for sale in Wilmette at 200K or under…

    There are another 13 in Northfield…

    So, you can stop your goofiness now.

    Comment by Rich Miller Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 1:27 pm

  21. I am sure Garrett is opposed to higher taxes because her cun-stitch-eeeants are already taxed out the wahoo.

    Funding is not the most important issue. Family structure etc are the key culprits to the poor results of Chi City schools. I understand there is funding discreptency, but not like they are getting $15000 per pupil vs $.38.

    Comment by Wumpus Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 1:31 pm

  22. Maybe the state can make it illeagal for the poor to have children. You can’t buy a car in Ill. Unless you can afford registration, DL, insurance, and taxes not to mention the price of the car. Minimum income levels to have children and 18 years from now the problem is solved.

    Comment by Fed up Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 2:11 pm

  23. skokieman, you should know that case law has established that the state has met that constitutional “primary funding” requirement by granting school districts the right to levy real estate taxes.

    There is no inherent constitutional right for schools to do so, so the state law allowing school real estate taxes is technically “from the state”.

    It’s dry hole trying to claim there’s some responsibility for the state to provide 50% of school funding in excess of local property taxes from general revenues.

    Thank Gosh that’s the case. Imagine the disaster we’d be experiencing if ALL school funding came from those clowns in Springpatch!

    Give it up!

    Comment by PalosParkBob Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 2:49 pm

  24. Love the equal protection argument. Now its time to use that provision against Daley’s continued minority set asides. Hmmm. looks like a good 42 USC 1983 action too….attorneys fees and all. Watch for it.

    Comment by Park Wednesday, Mar 24, 10 @ 6:41 pm

  25. Ms Flaherty is right in her analysis, and to those of you who say that a community deserves its schools I am sure you are moving your kids out of Winnetka and into East St. Louis in the near future. The difference between education and garbage rates is that a quality education system benefits our entire state…but I would not expect our elite, wealthy friends from the suburbs and city to understand that because they work the system to keep every penny they have…keep all of your wealth and let the education system and the rest of the state crumble…Indiana, Iowa, and Wisconsin appreciate it.

    Comment by DoubleD Thursday, Mar 25, 10 @ 7:38 am

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