Fight for school funding heads to court

Lawsuit filed against state, board of ed.
CHICAGO The lawsuit claims inadequate and unequal school funding is unconstitutional and accuses the state of discriminating against families based on race and depriving minority children a high-quality education.

The Chicago Urban League is trying to accomplish in court what lawmakers and the governor have not been able to do in Springfield. They want to come up with a funding system for schools that is more equitable and fair than relying on property taxes. Poor school districts will always do poorly under the current system, according to Chicago Urban League.

"It's time for action. Pick one, but let's go. Thirty years- it's time for action," said Cheryle Jackson, Chicago Urban League.

That action came in the form of a lawsuit that calls for the state's current school funding system to be declared unconstitutional and in violation of the 2003 Civil Rights Act.

"The lawsuit specifically challenges the state's method for raising and distributing education funds to local school districts," said Lisa Scruggs, plaintiff's attorney.

According to an analysis by The Chicago Reporter, $228,000 was spent on each student in 9 years of elementary education in Lake Forest. In the Chicago Public Schools system, that amount was less than half- $103,000. And in Frankfort, the amount fell to $59,000 per child.

The long-term result, according to Chicago Urban League, is minorities are getting short changed.

"54 years after Brown versus Board of Education, our schools remain segregated and unequal. It's beneath the American promise and the law," said Jesse Jackson, Rainbow-Push Coalition.

State Senator James Meeks, who has been calling for a boycott of Chicago Public Schools because of inadequate funding, was at the court filing.

"We all agreed that there would be no discussion… to boycott or not to boycott," said Meeks.

Off camera, Meeks said the lawsuit does not affect his calls for a boycott on the first day of school, September 2.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Arne Duncan says CPS is not a plaintiff to the suit right now but may join it eventually.

"What has been lacking is political courage to fundamentally challenge a system that's broken. That's why I'm so thankful for this coalition," said Duncan.

How could they change the system? Many people pointed out that the governor offered up the idea of leasing the lottery in 2006, which would generate about $2 billion. That amount would translate to an additional $2,000 per student in Illinois.

The governor's office did not return calls for a response.

The first hearing on the lawsuit should happen in the next few days.

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