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ISBE settles school funding lawsuit with Chicago Urban League

Sun-Times file photo

The Illinois State Board of Education said Friday it has reached a tentative settlement with the Chicago Urban League, who accused the agency almost a decade ago of violating students’ civil rights with the way it funds public schools.

ISBE agreed to hold special hearings to decide how to deal with funding shortages in years when the Illinois General Assembly allocates less than 95 percent of general state aid funding owed to the state’s school districts, according to a copy of the tentative agreement reached Friday. The public will be able to weigh in before ISBE board members take an open vote.

In years when legislators appropriate more than 95 percent of the general state aid required, ISBE may chose how to deal with the gap, possibly by proration — or making an across-the-board cut to all district, court documents show.

All 100 percent of general state aid was paid this school year, but it fell below 95 percent in every year since 2012, according to the state’s Education Funding Advisory Board.

This tentative settlement would appear to have little effect on a school funding lawsuit filed earlier this week by Chicago Public Schools, which accused ISBE of illegally creating two “separate but unequal” school systems under which minority CPS students receive significantly less state funding than their white counterparts elsewhere in the state.

ISBE’s board members expect to vote on the tentative settlement on Wednesday at their monthly meeting.

“The board will not comment on this matter until after the vote,” ISBE spokeswoman Jackie Matthews said.

The Chicago Urban League also declined to comment, with spokeswoman Paula Thornton Greear saying, “it would be premature to comment prior to the settlement being ratified.”

In 2008, the Chicago Urban League sued ISBE, alleging that its “public school funding scheme disparately impacts racial and ethnic minority students who attend school districts with a high concentration of minority students by distributing an unequal level of funding to those school districts in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act.”

Drawing parallels between subpar funding and academic performance, the suit faulted the state for providing little assistance to all school districts, forcing them to depend on property taxes, which left lower-income ones worse off than their wealthier counterparts.

“This over-reliance on locally raised revenues reinforces past discrimination and virtually ensures that in communities where property wealth has been negatively impacted by patterns of residential segregation, the school districts have no capacity to raise the revenues they desperately need to close the funding gap,” it read. “The persistent, substantial disparity in school funding across the State has left thousands of Illinois school children, particularly African American and Latino students, without an equal educational opportunity and the “high quality” education guaranteed to them under this State’s constitution.”

Among the affected districts cited was CPS, nearly all of whose students are African American or Hispanic and poor, saying the state’s largest district had larger class sizes than elsewhere in the predominantly white state.