A Chicago law firm representing a group of mostly rural school superintendents sued the state of Illinois today. They're asking Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state board of education to come up with a funding formula that would help schools meet the state's learning standards.
The 17 superintendents say that — between Illinois' notoriously inequitable funding formula and years of reduced state spending — this lawsuit is their last resort.
Consider Cahokia. The district has cut staff to the point that each of its kindergarten classes has 28 to 30 students (double the recommended ratio). The band program was cut 15 years ago, and the district has only two art teachers. Meanwhile, residents pay a property tax rate of 13.08 percent, almost triple the state average of 4.6 percent. Even with this high rate nets the district just $9 million, Superintendent Art Ryan says.
The funding situation makes repairing buildings out of the question.
"Our high school needs approximately $20-$25 million worth of repairs that we have no idea where that potentially is going to come from,” Ryan says. “"The plumbing's outdated, the electrical's outdated, and it's nowhere near ready for the technology needs that schools have today. It's just an old building that needs to be replaced."
Gov. Bruce Rauner and the General Assembly have increased school funding to historically high levels, but Dan Cox, superintendent of schools in Staunton, says pumping money through the existing state formula doesn't help districts with low property values.
"We're looking for an evidence-based model that's based on research. And currently, our funding model is not based on any of that. It's just an arbitrary number,” he says.
Lawmakers are considering a variety of overhauls to the school funding formula. But so far, no plan has made it to the governor's desk.
The lawsuit was filed in St. Clair County by the law firm of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd.
The districts listed as plaintiffs are:
Bethalto CUSD #8
Bond County CUSD #2
Bunker Hill CUSD #8
Cahokia CUSD #187
Carlinville CUSD #1
Gillespie CUSD #7
Grant CUSD #110
Illinois Valley Central CUSD #321
Mt. Olive CUSD #5
Mulberry Grove CUSD #1
Nokomis CUSD #22
Pana CUSD #8
Southwestern CUSD #9
Staunton CUSD #6
Taylorville CUSD #3
Vandalia CUSD #203
Vandalia CUSD #203
Wood River Hartford #15