Illinois hit with second lawsuit over school funding

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 05, 2017 3:11 PM

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A group of public school districts sued Illinois on Wednesday, claiming the state was not providing adequate funding for them to comply with state-mandated learning standards.

The lawsuit filed by 17 districts in St. Clair County Circuit Court follows litigation brought by the Chicago Public Schools last month in Cook County Court claiming the state's method of funding education discriminates against Chicago's largely black and Hispanic student body.

The latest lawsuit seeks to require Illinois to use evidence-based methodology to calculate the additional per-pupil state funding necessary for the districts to meet the learning standards first adopted in 1997. Illinois would then be required to provide that funding to the schools, which said they have been forced to raise property taxes, increase classroom sizes and lay off teachers due to insufficient state money.

Michael Persoon, the districts' legal counsel, said the schools want to keep the standards, which are good for students.

"But the state can't put all that burden to pay for it on (the districts)," he told reporters at a state capitol news conference.

Illinois Secretary of Education Dr. Beth Purvis said Republican Governor Bruce Rauner has boosted education funding by $700 million since 2015. While state officials in recent months have taken up the task of revamping the way Illinois funds schools, no consensus has emerged in the Democratic-controlled legislature.

School funding has been a politically volatile subject in Illinois for decades, pitting low property tax-generating school systems or those with mostly minority students against well-funded systems in wealthy Chicago suburbs much less reliant on state funding.

Since the 1970s, the sides have played to a political stalemate in the state legislature, which has rejected efforts at a statewide fix to solve the disparity between the haves and have-nots in Illinois education.

(Reporting by Karen Pierog; Editing by Matthew Lewis)