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State 'Out Of Touch With Reality,' Judge Says, But He Dismisses CPS Lawsuit

By  Kelly Bauer and Heather Cherone | April 28, 2017 2:07pm | Updated on April 28, 2017 5:32pm

 A judged tossed a CPS lawsuit against the State of Illinois alleging discrimination in the state's funding formula for public schools.
A judged tossed a CPS lawsuit against the State of Illinois alleging discrimination in the state's funding formula for public schools.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke


DOWNTOWN — Despite a judge's decision to toss Chicago Public Schools' lawsuit claiming the state's funding formula is discriminatory, the school year won't end early as threatened, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said late Friday afternoon.

Earlier Friday, Associate Cook County Circuit Court Judge Franklin Valderrama denied CPS' motion seeking an injunction against the state and granted the state's motion to dismiss the suit.

Valderrama said CPS had failed to identify the state's alleged discriminatory practices and CPS' complaint was, in effect, a challenge to the state's pension-funding practices. CPS can refile the suit with an amended complaint within 20 days, he ruled.

But Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced late Friday the city would step in and keep the schools open past June 1.

CPS officials had said they could close schools on June 1 if the district didn't get more money. The judge's decision means the schools will have to rely on the state to pony up more funding, borrow more money — or make even more cuts.

Though Valderrama dismissed the suit, he harshly criticized the state, saying portions of its argument showed it was "starkly out of touch" and it hadn't denied that its funding practices disparately impact children of color.

"To say the current [process] of funding is broken is to state the obvious," Valderrama said.

The state's "refrain to CPS' chronic underfunding dilemma for CPS to 'simply borrow more money' is eerily reminiscent of a quote often attributed to the last French queen, Marie Antionette, to 'let them eat cake' in response to her people's desperate plea for help in the midst of extreme hardship," the judge wrote.

"A suggestion that the issues of chronic underfunding faced by a struggling inner-city school system responsible for the education and care of hundreds of thousands of children is easily remedied by simply 'borrowing more money' is starkly out of touch with reality," he said.

Outside, parents of CPS students slammed the judge's decision, saying it was unfair. One woman, her voice choked with emotion, questioned why white children were given an education while children of color were not.

Others said they worried that ending CPS classes early would lead to more children killed or wounded in violence.

"I have a 13-year-old son. My son is worrying about is he going to graduate" said Lynette Boyd-Peoples.  "He's been doing good in school and everything he's supposed to do."

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, said the group was not sure what would happen.

CPS said it would release more information later Friday.

But Gov. Bruce Rauner's office lauded the decision in an emailed statement, saying the lawsuit had been a "distraction" that now is "behind us."

“Governor Rauner’s bipartisan commission has recommended changes that will create an equitable school funding formula to better meet the needs of each student within every school district in our state," Rauner's statement said. "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 lawmakers to pass a balanced budget that includes changes to our education system that will better meet the needs of every student.”

CPS argued that students' 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 said, 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.

"Cuts have already impacted the classroom," one attorney said at an April 19 hearing, predicting that CPS will eventually have to "shutter its doors."

The state's approach to funding amounts to a $500 million gap for Chicago, said CPS Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool.

CPS officials had said they would have to close public schools 20 days early unless the state Legislature and governor agreed to give CPS more funding. They had hoped the lawsuit would give CPS funding to stay open past June 1.

RELATED: What Will Happen If Schools Close June 1? Here's What We Know — And Don't

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 also is being sued by 17 other school districts that say they don't receive enough funding.

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 for pension relief. The veto left CPS scrambling to fill a budget hole.

CPS has been trying to balance its budget by making cuts and could have saved $91 million by ending school early, according to the CPS court filing. But CPS would lose $58.5 million in state funding next year if CPS had ended school early.

City officials have also considered using tax increment financing funds to keep CPS open, though Emanuel earlier criticized TIF funding as a short-term solution "that does not come close to addressing CPS’ financial concerns."

Moody's Investors Services dubbed CPS one of the "most vulnerable districts" in the state financially on Thursday, according to Reuters. 

The credit rating agency said CPS is one of several Illinois school districts that "face increasing cash flow pressures or the potential for a material decline in reserves amid the continued [state budget] delays," Reuters reported.

Read the judge's decision: