CHICAGO (CBS) — A Cook County judge will rule next week whether the cash-strapped Chicago Public Schools can move forward with a lawsuit accusing the state of discriminating against minority students in its education funding system.
The Chicago Board of Education and a group of CPS parents have filed a lawsuit against the state, seeking to declare its funding systems illegal under the Illinois Civil Rights Act.
At a hearing on the lawsuit on Wednesday, attorneys for the two sides argued whether education funding is adequate, if current levels are discriminatory, and whether the state can even be sued for discrimination.
CPS attorneys have sought a preliminary injunction barring the state from distributing any education funding in what they call a discriminatory manner. They asked Cook County Judge Franklin Valderrama for a prompt ruling at Wednesday’s hearing, although it’s unclear how such a ruling would help keep CPS afloat financially.
“The statute gives the judge broad authority to fashion a remedy to protect our children,” CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool said after the hearing.
CPS has said it must close schools 20 days early – on June 1 – unless the state comes up with more funding, or a court orders the state to do so.
Illinois Secretary of Education Beth Purvis warned Claypool against ending classes June 1.
“The Chicago Public Schools actually could lose money the following year, because they would have too few days in this school year. So, to me, that does not sound like a smart decision,” she said.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel bristled when asked whether he would do anything to keep the school year from ending early.
“I have done a lot to help the schools, but I am not going to let the state of Illinois off the hook for the way they both under-fund pensions and under-fund education for kids,” he said.
District lawyers have argued the state discriminates against poor and minority students by funding teacher pensions in the suburbs and downstate – where school districts are predominantly white – while leaving CPS to fund its own teachers’ pensions itself.
The state’s lawyers have argued CPS has no legal standing under the Illinois Civil Rights Act to sue the state for discrimination.
Franklin said he would rule on April 28 on the question of whether CPS can move forward with its lawsuit.
Claypool has said the district has 20 percent of the state’s public school students, but gets only 15 percent of state education funding. He said the state has even conceded the discrimination contended in the suit.
“The governor’s lawyers admitted that our facts are correct; that our students are 20 percent of enrollment, but receive only 15 percent of state funding. That’s a $500 million annual gap. Our children are 90 percent of color. The rest of the state is predominantly white,” he said.
Purvis dismissed the district’s claims of discrimination.
“The funding formula is broken. As to your question is it discriminatory against the children in Chicago? No,” she said.
Purvis said, instead of pointing fingers and blaming the governor for its own financial mismanagement, CPS should be urging lawmakers to pass a balanced budget that helps all schools. She said CPS funding has increased, despite declining enrollment and rising property values.