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Illinois Appellate Court Upholds Constitutionality of State’s Education Funding System

K-12 Education Publications

The Fifth District recently upheld the dismissal of a complaint filed by 22 Illinois school districts against Governor Pritzker and the State of Illinois challenging the constitutionality of the state’s public education funding system. In Cahokia Unit School District No. 187 et. al. v. Governor J.B. Pritzker and the State of Illinois, the school districts alleged that they are being held accountable for learning standards without adequate funding to meet those standards, and that such action is in violation of the Illinois Constitution. The Illinois Appellate Court found that the state’s education funding system does not violate the Illinois Constitution.

As background, Illinois enacted the Evidence-Based Funding for Student Success Act in 2017 to combat disparities in school funding.  The Act provides additional funding for under-resourced districts to meet or achieve the Illinois State Board of Education’s (“ISBE”) learning standards. After the Act’s enactment, ISBE calculated that the State must spend an additional $7.2 billion annually (for a total of $15.7 billion) to provide students with the high-quality education guaranteed under the Illinois Constitution.

In the lawsuit, the school district plaintiffs argued that the defendants, the Governor and the State of Illinois, violated the Illinois Constitution by failing to provide the additional $7.2 billion in funding. They also argued that disparities in per-pupil expenditures across Illinois are unconstitutional and deprive plaintiffs and their students of equal protection. The school districts sought a declaration that the Governor and State are constitutionally obliged to provide adequate funding as determined by ISBE and pursuant to the Evidence Based Funding Act. The State and the Governor successfully moved to dismiss the complaint in the trial court and the school districts appealed.

The Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal, finding that the State was properly dismissed based on sovereign immunity, which protects it from suit. When analyzing the claims against the Governor, the court found that it is bound to follow Illinois Supreme Court precedent, “regardless of the impact of any societal evolution that may have occurred.” Because the Supreme Court had previously found the funding system constitutional, the court refused to interfere.  Justice Wharton dissented, arguing that the appellate court has a duty to address the education quality and funding issues presented by plaintiffs instead of ignoring or postponing this critical issue. 

Until the Illinois Supreme Court revisits the constitutionality of school funding or legislative action is taken, the issues raised by the Illinois school districts are at a stand-still. For more information about this case or any other school finance issue, contact any Franczek attorney.