CHILLICOTHE — Illinois Valley Central School is the first area school district to vote to sue the state of Illinois for inadequate school funding.

Board members passed a resolution unanimously at Tuesday’s meeting.

IVC Superintendent Chad Allison said he expects about 15 school districts to join the effort within a few weeks, then a lawsuit would be filed.

Board members of Bunker Hill School District, in the hometown of state Sen. Andy Manar, D-Bunker Hill — one of the legislature’s most vocal advocates for school funding reform — also voted to join the potential lawsuit, according to Allison.

The Peoria area’s largest school district, Peoria Public Schools, is remaining neutral, said Superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat.

The state consistently is ranked at or near the bottom in rankings of states’ school funding. A 40-year history of trying to improve how Illinois funds schools is littered with failed legislation and failed lawsuits. But advocates for in the latest round of funding reform efforts appear to be shooting at the issue from all sides.

The current attempt comes as legislators try resolve a 20-month budget stalemate with a so-called “grand bargain” that would also fix disparities in school funding by including recommendations from Gov. Bruce Rauner’s bipartisan school funding reform commission. The commission’s report acknowledged, on average, school districts with the highest number of low-income students receive 20 percent less funding than wealthier districts.

Rauner urged lawmakers to “stop pointing fingers” and pass the grand bargain during his budget address Wednesday. But Allison said it seems as if lawmakers on both sides have drawn a line in the sand. “School districts are stuck in the middle.”

Chicago Public Schools filed a lawsuit against the governor and Illinois State Board of Education earlier this week, accusing the state of “separate and unequal systems of funding for public education.”

Peoria’s Tri-County Urban League and two Peoria families are co-plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Chicago’s Urban League in 2008. That lawsuit marks a milestone in Illinois’ history of school funding lawsuits just by still being in court. Similar lawsuits have not made it as far in the legal process before being thrown out.

While the Urban League and CPS lawsuits focus primarily on funding disparity’s impact on low-income black and Latino students, reform advocates say low-income students in predominantly white rural districts are also affected.

Allison said the current effort would revive the rationale of an unsuccessful 1990 lawsuit, Committee for Education Rights v. Edgar, brought by about 30 school districts throughout the state. Plaintiffs took the case all the way to Illinois Supreme Court, which upheld a lower court’s decision to dismiss it. The loss hinged on the point that state had never defined the standards for a quality education.

But Illinois’ adoption of statewide learning standard in 1997, by definition, clarifies the quality of education school districts must provide, Allison said.

“The problem is they’re not funding us to meet the standards,” he said. “They’ve mandated us to meet them but they haven’t mandated themselves to fund them.”

 

Pam Adams can be reached at 686-3245 and padams@pjstar.com. Follow her at twitter.com/padamspam.