DOWNTOWN — Lawyers on Wednesday argued that the State of Illinois is discriminating against Chicago Public Schools' minority students in the way it funds education.
At a hearing, part of a lawsuit five families brought against the state on behalf of CPS in mid-February, attorneys clashed over the state's funding and argued over whether Illinois government can be sued for discriminating against students. The courtroom had no seat empty, with parents of CPS students filling benches and waiting outside.
Associate Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama said he will rule on the question on April 28.
Parents suing the state argue their children's civil rights have been violated because the state gives more funding to other districts. CPS serves 20 percent of the state's students, many of them black or Latino, its lawyers argued, while only receiving 15 percent of the funding the state distributes to school districts statewide.
The rest of the funding goes to schools outside Chicago, where districts are predominantly white, attorneys said.
Claypool says state is coming up with excuses to enforce discriminatory funding. pic.twitter.com/NMB7nfgmc1— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) April 19, 2017
That approach amounts to a $500 million gap for Chicago, said CPS CEO Forrest Claypool. The district's officials have said they will have to close 20 days early unless the state agrees to give the district more funding or a court orders the state to do so. They're hoping the lawsuit can provide the district with funding to keep the doors open.
Attorneys for the families suing the state want the judge to issue an injunction that would stop the state from distributing funds in what they call a discriminating manner.
But the state's lawyers argued the state can't be sued for discrimination, and they said the lawsuit could harm schools statewide which might lose state money as legislators work out a deal to fund CPS.
The state's lawyers also suggested the lawsuit was not about school code funding but about Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoing a bill that would have given $215 million to CPS pension relief. The veto left the district, which receives less state funding for pensions than other districts, scrambling to fill a budget hole.
Claypool says it's not true other schools in state would shut down to give CPS relief. pic.twitter.com/9pl06CRUzT— Kelly Bauer (@BauerJournalism) April 19, 2017
CPS has "made due" with state funding in the past, the state's lawyers said, but only after the governor's veto did the lawsuit arise.
"Instead of pointing fingers and blaming decades of fiscal mismanagement on a governor who has been in office for two years, CPS should be urging legislators to pass a balanced budget that includes changes to our education system in Illinois that will better meet the needs of every child," said Beth Purvis, Illinois Secretary of Education, in a statement after the hearing.
CPS' supporters dismissed those arguments, with Claypool saying the state was looking for excuses to defend "insidious, immoral" racial discrimination.
The district faces "separate" and "unequal" funding, Claypool said, echoing a phrase — "separate but equal" — used to describe segregation practices in U.S. schools that saw black students treated differently from white students.
The state will continue to give more money to other school districts if nothing is done, said CPS' lawyers.
"Cuts have already impacted the classroom," one attorney said, noting CPS will eventually have to "shutter its doors."
The cash-strapped district, which has been trying to balance its budget by making cuts, can save $91 million by ending school early, according to CPS' court filing. But the district would lose $58.5 million in state funding next year if CPS had to end school early.
CPS officials have said they need a decision in the lawsuit by May 1 so families can prepare.