Given that his district educates a high percentage of low-income students and Cahokia property tax payers already are among the most burdened in the state, Superintendent Art Ryan says District 187 cannot be expected to meet more stringent testing requirements without more state funding.

In a recent interview, Ryan explained his rationale for joining in a lawsuit against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state.

The three-count complaint filed last week alleges the defendants adopted more rigorous and expensive learning standards to be universally achieved by every school in the state but have failed to provide adequate funding for districts with a higher concentration of low-income students.

Ryan said that when the state increased more rigorous standards, it needed to adjust funding. 

“The whole point of the lawsuit is the state has implemented these new standards … But when they implemented the standards, they did nothing to increase the funding,” Ryan said.

Cahokia and 16 other school districts are represented by Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan, Ltd., in Chicago and the Law Offices of Thomas E. Kennedy, III, L.C., in St. Louis in the suit filed in St. Clair County where several other actions involving the state's budget impasse are pending. 

Ryan used an example of building a home. He said that if a builder begins building with wood and changes the design to brick, the expense increases. 

“If you increase the expectations of what you want each school district to do to get the kids to a certain level of expertise … you can’t say, ‘Well you have to do all this but I’m not going to give you what you need to achieve that.’”

Ryan said the school districts want the state to determine the cost for each school using a scientific method and then fund them at that level. 

According to the lawsuit, Cahokia has the highest percentage of low-income students at 73.7 percent and the highest student enrollment at 3,490 students among the plaintiff districts. 

The district also sees one of the highest property taxes in the state at $13.08 per $100 of assessed value just for schools. A home's assessed value is determined as one-third of market value. 

Ryan said the high property tax assessment “still only nets us about $9.6 million.”

He added that Cahokia is a “high-poverty area with a lot of mobility and a lot of single parents, which makes educating the kids that much tougher.” 

Ryan said that in the last five years, the school district has had to eliminate roughly 82 certified positions because of proration, meaning it did not receive its full funding and suffered budget cuts. 

In the 2011-2012 school year, Cahokia had 178 regular teachers and 42 special education teachers. Now, the school has 120 regular teachers and 26 special education teachers, Ryan said. 

The school has had to cut teachers as well as various courses to “just get by.”

Ryan added that state aid funding amounts to roughly $2.5 million and categorical funding amounts to roughly $4 million. 

Categorical funding is used for specific expenditures such as music or sports. 

Ryan said that for the last four or five years, the state prorated state aid payments and only paid the categorical payments. But this year, the state paid the state aid and held back categorical payments, meaning the school district is $4 million short. 

So even though the state funded state aid 100 percent, the districts aren’t getting the additional money they rely on, he said. 

The lawsuit also alleges that in every plaintiff district, test scores have dropped dramatically due to financial aid erosion.

According to the complaint, Cahokia’s test scores are the lowest of the plaintiff districts.

Test scores dropped from 69.0 percent passing the ISAT test in 2011-12 to just 5.3 percent passing the PARCC test in 2015-16.

Ryan said the lawsuit was not filed as a result of the failure of two recent sales tax proposals in Madison and St. Clair counties. If passed, the sales tax proposals would have implemented a 1 percent tax on most items sold in the counties to benefit the school districts. Specifically, the St. Clair County sales tax was expected to garner $22 million per year in additional funds to be distributed between the schools. 

While both measures – the sales tax and the lawsuit – address school funding issues, Ryan said the two are unrelated. 

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