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Susan Dosemagen/MEDILL

Ald. Manny Flores (1st), said everyone needs to work together to fix the "broken system."


12 families join school funding suit

by Susan Dosemagen
Oct 16, 2008


Dad says it's a fight for his children's future

By Jessica Dill

Alvin Greenup has four children and three grandchildren that are in or have gone through the Chicago Public Schools. He says that is why he is joining 11 other families in a suit to change the way schools are funded.
 
“I’m just being a parent concerned for my children’s education,” Greenup said. “I’ve sat on local school councils and PTA for seven years so I see the disparity every year.”

The 12 families from Chicago, Peoria and Aurora that joined the Chicago Urban League lawsuit against the State of Illinois, say their children are not getting the same benefits that children in wealthier neighborhoods are receiving.

Greenup says he sees when a principal has to juggle between buying new textbooks or keeping a good teacher, which all comes down to money. He says schools with more funds provide better opportunities for the students.

“I just think it gives them a more well-rounded elementary and high school experience,” Greenup said. “It gives them a chance to broaden their horizons.”

Greenup works for the Chicago Police Department, requiring him to live in the city. He says the lower funds given to his kids’ school district won’t prepare them as well for college. He wants his children to be able to attend college without feeling overwhelmed with training and equipment in the classrooms that the other students have grown up with.
Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th), says an unfunded system leads to low-quality education and underachieving students.
“No matter your race, gender or economic status, students receiving low-quality education affects us all,” Ocasio said. “A child’s limitation should only be how big they can dream, not which school district they happen to live in.”
While it’s too late for his kids in high school, Greenup says he hopes the lawsuit will make things better before his young grandchildren are old enough to understand that their school has limitations.
“It’s a fight worth fighting,” he said. “And I’m glad to be a part of it.”
 


Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003

Sec. 5. Discrimination prohibited.

 

(a) No unit of State, county, or local government in Illinois shall:

 

(1) exclude a person from participation in, deny a person the benefits of, or subject a person to discrimination under any program or activity on the grounds of that person's race, color, national origin, or gender; or

 

(2) utilize criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, national origin, or gender.

 

(b) Any party aggrieved by conduct that violates subsection (a) may bring a civil lawsuit, in a federal district court or State circuit court, against the offending unit of government. Any State claim brought in federal district court shall be a supplemental claim to a federal claim. This lawsuit must be brought not later than 2 years after the violation of subsection (a). If the court finds that a violation of paragraph (1) or (2) of subsection (a) has occurred, the court may award to the plaintiff actual damages. The court, as it deems appropriate, may grant as relief any permanent or preliminary negative or mandatory injunction, temporary restraining order, or other order.

 

(c) Upon motion, a court shall award reasonable attorneys' fees and costs, including expert witness fees and other litigation expenses, to a plaintiff who is a prevailing party in any action brought:

 

(1) pursuant to subsection (b); or

 

(2) to enforce a right arising under the Illinois Constitution.

 

In awarding reasonable attorneys' fees, the court shall consider the degree to which the relief obtained relates to the relief sought.

 

(d) For the purpose of this Act, the term "prevailing party" includes any party:

 

(1) who obtains some of his or her requested relief through a judicial judgment in his or her favor;

 

(2) who obtains some of his or her requested relief through any settlement agreement approved by the court; or

 

(3) whose pursuit of a non‑frivolous claim was a catalyst for a unilateral change in position by the opposing party relative to the relief sought.


A dozen families from across Illinois have joined a lawsuit seeking to overturn the way schools are financed, so districts in the state are funded equally.

“Black and brown communities are united on this issue. Upstate and downstate are united on this issue. Urban and rural communities are united on this issue,” Cheryle Jackson, president of Chicago Urban League said. “So there’s no hiding from us.”

The Urban League filed the lawsuit in August seeking to have the funding declared in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003 and the Illinois Constitution. The suit against the state and the Illinois State Board of Education is pending in Cook County Circuit Court.
 
Lisa Scruggs, the attorney handling the case, said it was critical to involve plaintiffs in the case that represent majority-minority school districts to demonstrate it is a problem throughout Illinois. The suit argues that the current funding system violates the civil rights act because it hurts African-American and Hispanic families disproportionately.

The suit charges that Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 in state contributions to school funding, and says the state’s share of revenue for schools has declined from 48 percent in 1976 to 28 percent in 2007.

The Illinois State Board of Education’s figures show a state contribution of 33 percent, with local property taxes accounting for 57 percent of school funding and the federal government providing the remaining 9 percent.

Regardless of the differences between the figures, the suit claims that the “school funding system is fundamentally flawed” because the “Illinois Constitution mandates that the State shall have the ‘primary responsibility’ for financing public schools.”

In a funding system that largely relies on local property taxes, more affluent areas are able to devote more money per student. This funding scheme leads to large disparities between schools. For example, the New Trier school district on the North Shore averages about $17,500 per student while the statewide average is $9,900 per student, according to the Illinois State Board of Education.
 
“We cannot and must not allow for our public education… [to] be determined by color of skin, by our surname or by where we live,” said Ald. Manny Flores (1st).
 
The Urban League is pushing for an expedited hearing process to produce a response quickly.
 
“What we are asking for is an injunction precluding the enforcement of the current system and the implementation of one that does not violate the law,” said Scruggs.
 
If the current funding system is declared unconstitutional, the court would determine a timeframe in which the state has to implement a new system, said Scruggs.
 
Jackson said there have been solutions for school funding disparities on the table for 30 years, “it’s now time to pick the best [solution] and run with it.”