Urban League Sues for School Equity

by Quintana Woodridge 

Black and Latino students are more likely to attend an under-funded school than whites because of the ways schools in Illinois are funded, according to a lawsuit filed by the Chicago Urban League against the State of Illinois.

The Urban League originally filed suit in August 2008, asserting that the State of Illinois is violating the Illinois Civil Rights Act by discriminating against families based on race and has deprived African American, Latino and other minority children of a high quality education.

In the lawsuit the Chicago Urban League claims that poor academic performances are a direct result of the lack of funds in low-income school districts. The suit states that classrooms are overcrowded, school facilities are dilapidated, and the technology is outdated. The lack of funding has caused many sports, arts, music and education programs to be cut.

“These disparities are well known and despite the evidence, the state has failed to act,” the lawsuit alleges.

The Urban League cited Section 1 of the Illinois Civil Rights Act 2003 Education Article to back up their case: “The state has the primary responsibility for financing public schools and is obligated to provide for the establishment of schools that deliver a ‘high quality’ education to the over 2 million students enrolled in elementary and secondary public school in the state of Illinois.”

On April 15, 2009, Judge Martin Agran declared the Urban League’s case has merit and should be heard in court. On April 16, Urban League President Cheryle Jackson of the Chicago Urban League said at a press conference, “It wasn’t a victory for the Urban League but for the children of Illinois.”

Jackson went on leave shortly after that press conference to wage an unsuccessful campaign for the US Senate. Urban League Vice President Herman Brewer has been serving as acting president.

In the meantime, the Urban League’s case still hasn’t been resolved. In a May 2009 telephone interview, Roderick Hawkins, director of communications for the Urban League, stated that the lawsuit challenges the state’s method for raising and distributing educational funds to local school districts.

The state’s funding scheme generates the nation’s second largest school funding gap between low- and high-income schools.

Also, the state’s public schools funding scheme disparately impacts racial and ethnic minority students who attend school in districts with as high a concentration of minority students by distributing an unequal level of funding to those school districts.

According to information stated in the lawsuit found on the Urban League’s website, Illinois has ranked 49th in state contributions to school funding since 2003.

The state’s share of revenue for public schools has decreased steadily, from 48 percent in 1976 to 33 percent in 2004, 31.8 percent in 2005 and 29.6 percent in 2006. In 2007, the state contribution fell to a new low, 27.8 percent.

The lawsuit states that local property taxpayers bear the brunt of the cost for funding the schools. For 10 years, the state has enforced and implemented a funding scheme that requires over 60 percent of the funds to be raised through non-state taxes.

The suit states that communities where property wealth has been negatively impacted by residential segregation have no capacity to raise the funds that would close the funding gap.

Compared to other states, Illinois property taxpayers contribute the third-highest share of education costs at 62 percent and pay the 10th highest dollar amount toward school funding.

“This is not an African American or a Latino issue, but an issue for the entire state to be concerned about and engaged in,” the Urban League stated in their lawsuit.

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