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The Latest on School Funding Legislation and Litigation

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April 13, 2017

By Scott Metcalf and Nicki Bazer

The issue of school funding reform is being addressed on many fronts this year.  In Springfield, proponents of funding reform and the evidence based model continue their efforts at legislative change.  Meanwhile, school districts in vastly different communities have taken the issue of school funding from the floor of the legislature to the courtroom. Both the Chicago Public Schools and a coalition of downstate school districts have filed lawsuits challenging the way in which the State of Illinois funds education. Here is a brief update on all three efforts.  

On July 12, 2016, Governor Bruce Rauner convened a Funding Reform Commission comprised of 25 legislators and state education leaders and facilitated by ISBE Chairman James Meeks.  The Commission issued a report on February 1, 2017 which contained a number of recommendations regarding changing the school funding formula. One of the members of the Commission, Representative William Davis, has filed HB 2808 which contains the blue print for a new evidenced-based funding formula. HB 2808 has passed out of the Appropriations – Elementary and Secondary Education Committee and is headed to a vote of the full House.  Senator Andrew Manar, also a member of the Commission and a leader on the issue of funding reform in past legislative sessions, has filed SB 1 which also requires a new evidenced-based funding formula. Senator Manar’s bill has been amended three times based on feedback from various stakeholder groups but has not yet received a committee hearing. And finally, Senator Jason Barickman, a third member of the Commission, held a press conference on April 12 announcing that he will be filing two bills: SB 1124 which will contain an evidenced-based funding formula, and SB 1125 which will contain various “mandate” relief for school districts. 

There have been no numbers released on any of the formulas proposed in these pieces of legislation so the impact on individual districts if any passes is unknown. All of these bills will continue to work their way through the legislative process and may yet become part of a larger compromise on the budget or could be impacted by the two court cases pending in the state.

Earlier this year, the Chicago Board of Education and five African-American and Hispanic families filed a lawsuit against Governor Bruce Rauner, ISBE, and Comptroller Susanna Mendoza asking a judge to bar the State from distributing state aid in a manner that discriminates against the plaintiffs. The claim is premised on the Illinois Civil Rights Act, which prohibits the State from utilizing “criteria or methods of administration that have the effect of subjecting individuals to discrimination because of their race, color, [or] national origin.” 

The litigation has been moving quickly as a result of an interest in addressing the merits of the claim before the General Assembly adjourns and the 2017 fiscal year ends. On April 19, the Court will hear oral argument on both the State’s motion to dismiss the complaint and the Board of Education’s motion for a preliminary injunction. And, just last week, Judge Franklin Valderrama granted the Chicago City Council Latino Caucus and Members of the Chicago Business Community leave to file amici curiae (friends of the court) briefs in support of the Chicago Board of Education’s position. 

Also last week, seventeen mostly rural school districts filed a lawsuit in St. Clair County seeking an adequate and equitable school funding formula. The three-count complaint alleges the state has imposed more rigorous and expensive learning standards without providing adequate funding or increasing a school district’s debt capacity. As a result, the districts allege the test scores of their students have dropped dramatically. The districts seek to enforce the education clause of the Illinois Constitution (Article X, Section 1) and compel the State to ensure each district receives the amount of state aid necessary to comply with the State’s learning standards.

We will continue to monitor both the legislation and the litigation and keep you apprised of important developments. 

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