Originally posted as an Op-Ed to Crain’s Chicago Business.
On Friday, a Cook County Circuit Court judge will rule on whether CPS is likely to succeed on the merits of a civil rights claim against the State, and whether immediate action can be taken against the State’s racially discriminatory school funding system.
On the eve of this decision, it’s critical for Chicagoans to understand what this case is about and what’s at stake for our children.
The CPS suit challenges the state’s racially discriminatory system of school funding. Although Gov. Bruce Rauner repeatedly says he did not create this system, he has increased the racially disparate impact at a shocking rate. Unless stopped, the disparity will continue to escalate.
The state has two separate and unequal systems for funding education: one for CPS and another for the rest of Illinois. As Brown v. Board of Education taught us more than 60 years ago, separate systems never turn out to be equal. When the state maintains separate systems, differences inevitably infect the process, and racial disparities grow—just as they have in Illinois.
CPS students are 90 percent of color. The rest of Illinois is predominantly white. CPS students are 20 percent of state enrollment but receive only 15 percent of state funding, a $500 million annual gap. In court, the state does not dispute these facts.
Under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, the state cannot fund schools in ways that have a “disparate impact” on account of race, color, or national origin. By creating separate and unequal school funding systems—one for CPS and one for the rest of Illinois—the state has violated this law. And nearly 400,000 school children in CPS suffer.
Much ink (and many pixels) has been devoted to whether schools will stay open. This is why we’re in court, to make sure students get a good education and stay in school.
The state’s discriminatory funding of Chicago students has created huge financial burdens for CPS. Last year, the General Assembly passed bipartisan legislation taking the first, albeit only partial, step toward bridging the racial divide with $215 million in Chicago teacher pension funding, compared to the $4 billion the state will spend for all other Illinois schools. Rauner’s sudden and admittedly emotional veto reversed even that first step. As a result, few options remain to address our budget deficit.
In the meantime, Rauner’s spokesmen are doing everything possible to misdirect the public’s attention by pointing to the need for statewide education funding reform, focusing on poverty rather than race. Yes, there should be education funding reform. Yes, poor school districts across the state need and deserve support.
But inadequate school funding is not at issue in Circuit Court. The issue is race, a subject Rauner desperately wants to hide. Our lawsuit exposes the state’s violation of Illinois law—its racial discrimination against a class of vulnerable school children. The message this discrimination sends is vile: black and brown children are less important, their futures less valued.
Let’s also not lose sight of the state’s shameful defense. Even as the governor attempts to deflect the conversation away from racial discrimination, his lawyers are arguing in court that Chicago’s children deserve less. Last week, attorneys representing the governor told Judge Franklin Valderrama that Chicago children should continue to “make do” on “bubble gum and baling wire.” Would they have dared to say that if white children’s educations were at stake?
The fact that the government believes Chicago’s children should receive less is precisely why the civil rights law was written. It must be enforced. Chicago’s children get only one shot at a good education.