The Chicago Board of Education and five individual parents charged Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner, the Illinois State Board of Education and other state defendants with operating a racially discriminatory state education funding system in a complaint filed last week in the Chancery Division of the state circuit court. The suit claims that last year the State spent 74 cents to educate Chicago’s children for every dollar the State spent to educate the predominantly white children outside Chicago, and that Chicago received just 15% of the state’s education funding, despite having nearly 20% of the students. Chicago’s student body is composed approximately 90% of students of color, compared to schools in the rest of the state that are 58% white.
The suit also alleges that the State assumes the primary responsibility for funding pensions on behalf of every school district in Illinois – except Chicago, which currently pays $1,891 per student on pensions, compared to $86 per student spent on pensions by other school districts. Chicago claims that if these funding inequities were eliminated, it would receive approximately $ 500 million per year in additional state education aid. The system is currently implementing extensive mid-year cuts including four furlough days and a spending freeze to make up for roughly half of the $215 million in pension relief it had expected to receive from a legislative bill that was vetoed by the governor.
Chicago’s complaint does not include any adequacy claims, despite the fact that Illinois’ constitution guarantees all students a “high quality” education, presumably because the Illinois Supreme Court has twice rejected adequacy claims, ruling that the courts will not review legislative funding actions because of separation of powers principles. Since the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2001 ruling in Alexander v. Sandoval, 532 U.S. 275, individuals can not file discriminatory impact claims under Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act in federal court, but a private right of action is available under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, the provisions of which are similar to Title VI.
In 2008, the Chicago Urban League had brought a case that claimed, among other things, that the state education finance system discriminated against all “majority-minority” school districts in the state in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act. That Civil Rights Act claim is still pending in the Cook County Circuit Court.