CHICAGO — Five families sued the State of Illinois on behalf of Chicago Public Schools Tuesday, claiming that the state has violated the civil rights of their children by giving Chicago schools less funding than other districts.
CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool has repeatedly accused Gov. Bruce Rauner of supporting a "wrong and immoral" school-funding system that "cements racial discrimination that violates the civil rights of our children and threatens their very future."
Illinois picks up a greater share of the bill for teacher pensions in school districts outside Chicago — where 58 percent of students are white — than for Chicago's teachers, where the district is 38 percent black, 47 percent Hispanic and 10 percent white.
In 2016, the lawsuit alleges, for every dollar the state spent on educating children outside the city, about 76 cents was spent on students in Chicago.
Speaking to reporters Tuesday, Claypool said CPS students account for 20 percent of public-school enrollment statewide, but receive just 15 percent of Illinois' available education funding. A five-percent bump in funding could amount to an extra $500 million for Chicago schools, the CEO said.
"The State treats CPS's school children, who are predominantly African American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the state's education funding school bus," the lawsuit charges.
CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson on Tuesday described the lawsuit as "our last option" to eradicate "an inequitable system that can no longer stand."
"Public education is a right. That's the end of that sentence," Jackson said at a news conference inside Englewood's Lindblom Math & Science Academy, 6130 S. Wolcott Ave. "The Illinois constitution is clear: It's the state's responsibility to fund schools adequately.
"We are here to fight on behalf of our children," the CPS graduate and CPS parent continued, "because the disparity between CPS and wealthier districts in Illinois is stark, clear ... and deliberate."
The families who are cited in the CPS suit are identified as black or Hispanic with children in fifth through ninth grades.
Vanessa Valentin, a plaintiff with two children in Chicago public schools, addressed the press Tuesday: "The state's discriminatory funding system has put a gap on our kids' potential. Our children will find productive places in the world if they just have the resources they deserve."
Mark Mendoza, a CPS father of six, said, "It's not fair that you are doing things for predominantly white neighborhoods, and we're suffering here in Chicago, where it's predominantly black and Latino children."
Rauner has accused Claypool of attempting to "rewrite history and distract from 20 years of fiscal mismanagement by Chicago Public Schools."
Before Tuesday's news conference, roughly 50 Lindblom students blocked a school staircase, shouting that "Claypool has got to go!" Students described the school's crumbling infrastructure and slammed the lawsuit as too little, too late.
"Right now, it's 50 years too late," senior Jahi Parham said. "I'm graduating. It's 50 years too late for all these students that have been here for years and years."
When asked about the students' impromptu protest, Claypool said, "Look, I understand it. I understand they're upset and concerned. And I'm glad to see that they're actually active and want to do something about it. I'm going to meet a few of them afterwards. I'm going to show them our website, give them a copy of our complaint and tell them how they can help."
In response to the lawsuit, Illinois Education Secretary Beth Purvis said a commission charged with examining the way schools are funded recommended changes be made so that each school is funded "adequately" to meet the needs of its students. That could result in more money for districts with more low-income students, including in the suburbs, as well as Chicago.
Purvis said state officials were reviewing the suit.
During an unrelated event, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said there was no doubt that the way Illinois funds schools violates state civil rights laws.
"The governor has made the situation worse," Emanuel said. "The system penalizes these kids because they are poor and minority, and that can't happen."
CPS had counted on $215 million vetoed by Rauner to pay employees' pensions when that bill comes due in the summer.
The School Board is expected to approve mid-year budget cuts at its Feb. 22 meeting to fill the gap left by the $215 million Rauner veto. CPS, which has a low credit rating, would be hard-pressed to borrow money.
Earlier this month, CPS officials said they would freeze half of schools' discretionary funds, which can be used to buy textbooks and technology and to pay for after-school programs, field trips and hourly staff, totaling $46 million. However, in an attempt to avoid penalizing schools that squirreled away money, schools will lose no more than 5 percent of their overall budgets, officials said.
CPS will save another $5 million by canceling professional development events for its central office staff. Unless state funds are restored, charter schools will also see their budgets slashed by $18 million by the end of the year, officials said.
Last month, Claypool ordered four unpaid furlough days for all CPS employees to save $35 million. On the first unpaid day, more than 100 teachers protested outside the Mayor's Office. This is the second year in a row CPS officials have cut schools' budgets in the middle of the school year.
In sum, the cuts announced by schools' officials fill about half of the gap created by Rauner's veto.
The fiscal crisis for CPS began in November, when Rauner blamed Illinois Senate President John Cullerton for torpedoing a compromise signed in June that allowed schools to open in September. Part of that deal promised Chicago schools an additional $215 million to help cover its pension obligations — in return for statewide "pension reform," a long-held goal of the governor.
Cullerton maintains that he did not break the agreement and was willing to continue working on an agreement with the governor on pension reform.
In a message to legislators, Rauner said he would not sign the bill because it would amount to a "bailout" for CPS.
Rauner and Speaker of the House Michael Madigan have been locked in a bitter fight over the Illinois budget.
As part of a budget deal, the governor wants lawmakers to adopt his agenda, which he says will spur business growth in Illinois. Democrats have refused, and the impasse has lasted nearly two years.