clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

Rahm won’t close schools early — despite losing funding lawsuit

Mayor Rahm Emanuel, joined by Chicago Board of Education President Frank M. Clark, Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson, and Schools CEO Forrest Claypool, announces that schools will not close early this year. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Chicago Public Schools will not close three weeks early, Mayor Rahm Emanuel said Friday, even though the nearly bankrupt school district lost its bid for a court order mandating a change in what it calls a discriminatory school funding formula.

“The kids of the city of Chicago will be in school until the end of the year because that’s where they belong,” Emanuel said at a late afternoon news conference.

The mayor did not outline how he plans to keep CPS in session — or what source he may have found for a “bridge loan” needed to keep the doors open past June 1.

“We will be here working to find the resources,” he said.

He said only that he will not tolerate a premature end to the vaunted longer school year that he was able to achieve only after enduring a teachers strike in 2012.

Hours earlier, the Chicago Board of Education was dealt a big blow in its bid to immediately win more money for the city’s public school system, with a Cook County judge rejecting its argument that the state maintains “two separate and demonstrably unequal systems” for funding public education.

Judge Franklin Valderrama dismissed the lawsuit filed against the state Board of Education by financially troubled CPS.

However, the judge offered the district one last chance to change his mind, giving the school system until May 26 to file an amended complaint.

Rosalind Harvey, mother of a CPS student, reacted angrily after the court hearing at which a judge rejected The Chicago Board of Education’s bid for a preliminary injunction over how the state funds school districts. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times
Rosalind Harvey, mother of a CPS student, reacted angrily after the court hearing at which a judge rejected The Chicago Board of Education’s bid for a preliminary injunction over how the state funds school districts. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

Emanuel and CPS CEO Forrest Claypool had sought a preliminary injunction to halt all payments to school districts, including Chicago, until a non-discriminatory way of distributing state money for public education and teacher pensions could be determined by state lawmakers.

CPS’ lawsuit cited the Illinois Civil Rights Act, saying: “… the State treats CPS’ schoolchildren, who are predominantly African American and Hispanic, as second-class children, relegated to the back of the State’s education funding school bus.”

Asked if CPS plans to file an amended complaint, Claypool didn’t commit one way or the other.

“The judge issued a very voluminous ruling,” Claypool said. “We need time with our lawyers to review it and determine what our next steps will be.”

Gov. Rauner’s administration heralded the court action.

“With this distraction behind us, we can move forward on working with the General Assembly to fix our state’s school funding formula,” state Education Secretary Beth Purvis said.

“Instead of pointing fingers and blaming decades of fiscal mismanagement on a governor who has been in office for two years, CPS should be urging lawmakers to pass a balanced budget that includes changes to our education system that will better meet the needs of every student.”

Valderrama said CPS’ lawsuit was not so much a challenge under the Illinois Civil Rights Act, but rather “a challenge to the pension code.”

Even if CPS had scored a legal knock-out in Round One, a financial rescue could not have possibly come in time to stave off that threatened June 1 closing of Chicago Public Schools.

Chicago Board of Education President Frank M. Clark (from left) joined CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson, Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference Friday afternoon. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times
Chicago Board of Education President Frank M. Clark (from left) joined CPS chief education officer Janice Jackson, Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and Mayor Rahm Emanuel at a press conference Friday afternoon. | Maria Cardona/Sun-Times

A rewrite of the school funding formula that has eluded the Legislature for decades would not have come easily or quickly, as the marathon state budget stalemate drags on.

That meant Emanuel would have no choice but to roll the dice and rescue CPS.

Despite his ruling against CPS, Valderrama was blunt in his own assessment of the state’s school funding formula.

“To say the state’s current scheme of funding public education is broken is to state the obvious,” he said.

Still, without an injunction, there is less pressure on the Illinois General Assembly and more heat on Emanuel. That is a risky proposition for a mayor who has spent the last six years attempting to shore up Chicago’s own shaky finances and prevent CPS from dragging the city under.

What Emanuel has called a “firewall” between city and school finances needs to come down — at least temporarily — in the form of a bridge loan from the city’s tax-increment-financing funds or a combination of a loan and yet another round of painful school budget cuts.

The most likely source of a temporary bridge loan is tax-increment financing funds. The mayor has already used $87.5 million in surplus TIF money to stave off another teachers’ strike. He could ask the City Council to declare another temporary surplus and hope the money would be paid back when a long-term solution is reached.

A bridge loan from the $620 million in “asset reserves” that remain from the sale of the Chicago Skyway is equally unlikely. That’s because Emanuel has taken great pains to replenish that “rainy day fund” drained by former Mayor Richard M. Daley to avoid raising property taxes.

And equally unlikely is anything short of a full, $720 million payment due to the Chicago Teachers Pension Fund due on June 30.

Two years ago, the Emanuel administration asked the teachers pension fund for a five-month, $500 million loan. The pension fund said no and would likely do so again.