Although the Illinois Supreme Court has, in two prior decisions, held that the courts have no authority to review school funding decisions of the legislature, 17 Illinois school districts whose per capita funding is below the state average filed a lawsuit on April 5, 2017 claiming that the state’s failure to adequately fund their schools violates the State constitution. Cahokia Unit Sch. Dist v. Rauner. Plaintiffs seek to distinguish their adequacy claim from the negative State Supreme Court precedents by arguing that since the time of the earlier rulings, the State has defined the standards of the “high quality” education called for in the state constitution and has required districts to meet those standards.
According to the plaintiffs, the additional cost of complying with the Illinois Learning Standards as they now exist is beyond their financial means. They maintain that the State should select an appropriate evidence-based methodology to determine the cost to each district of achieving the Illinois Learning Standards or making reasonable progress in doing so. The State should then pay such additional annual cost.
The complaint also asserts that the huge disparity between the resources available to students in the plaintiff districts and their peers in rich districts is so great that it denies their students equal protection of the laws. Plaintiffs also make a claim under the constitution’s due process clause that it is arbitrary and capricious to assess Illinois students under the Illinois Learning Standards that are neither equally nor adequately funded and that are then used to determine whether students in the plaintiff districts should be admitted into the State’s public institutions of higher education.
Dr. David Lett, Superintendent of Pana CUSD #8, summarized the plaintiffs’ position as follows:
The 17 districts that have joined this case so far did so because we are all at a breaking point. We as school administrators and superintendents have been forced to increase class sizes, lay off qualified teachers and eviscerate social services for students, all because the State is not living up to its constitutional obligation to adequately fund the Learning Standards it mandates. Each district has gone through its budget line by line to re-allocate dollars more efficiently. But we won’t stand to see our students lose out any longer simply because of where they live.
Last February, the Chicago Board of Education filed a suit that charged that the state’s education funding system is racially discriminatory. That case was filed under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, and does not raise any constitutional claims.