Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Rauner, state file motion to dismiss school districts' lawsuit over state funding

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jun 27, 2017

Attorney General Lisa Madigan argues that claims brought against Gov. Bruce Rauner and the state by 17 school districts must be dismissed, stating that funding for public education is controlled by legislators.

The complaint filed in April by Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd. in Chicago and the Law Offices of Thomas E. Kennedy, III, L.C., in St. Louis, alleges Rauner, the State of Illinois and the Illinois State Board of Education failed to provide the funding necessary to achieve the more rigorous and expensive learning standards required in Illinois.

On June 15, the defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint through Madigan. 

She argues that issues of public education funding must remain with the General Assembly.

In a memorandum in support of the motion to dismiss, Madigan argues that while it may be true that the current system of funding public education may be in need of reform by legislators, “the current system is undoubtedly constitutional.”

“The Learning Standards have not effected such a change in the authority of elected school boards as to eliminate local control, upset established precedent on the separation of powers, or cause Article X of the Constitution to mean something different in this case than it has meant in earlier cases,” the memorandum states.

She also argues that the case is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, “which deprives the circuit court of jurisdiction in lawsuits brought against the State of Illinois, its agencies and departments, and, in appropriate cases, state officials such as the Governor.”

The memorandum explains that “the Governor is not being sued for his conduct – there are no allegations that he is acting unconstitutionally.

“There is no relief aimed at preventing him from taking some action alleged to be wrongful. The challenges is to the school funding statutes themselves – which the Governor does not control through any discretionary act on his part,” it states.

“This lawsuit is self-evidently brought against the State of Illinois, whether the Governor is included in the caption of the case or not. The real party defendant in interest here is the State, against whom the plaintiffs seek an award of funds. Accordingly, the circuit court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case," it continues. 

Madigan adds that the plaintiffs lack standing to assert Constitutional rights on behalf of third parties, their students.

“School districts themselves do not possess a legally recognized right to receive an education,” the memorandum states.

“The school districts deliver the education, and are not direct beneficiaries of it, and it is apparent from the plain meaning of the constitutional text that if anyone is entitled to claim the benefit of Article X, it would be students, not units of local government like school districts,” it continues.

Madigan argues in the motion to dismiss that count I fails to state a claim because the “Constitution does not confer judicially-enforceable rights compelling the State to fund public education at a specific monetary level.”

She also argues that counts II and III fail to state a claim because “school funding decisions, local control of education, and the operation of the Learning Standards are rationally related to legitimate state interests.”

“First, it is wrong to look at the Learning Standards in isolation and conclude that local control no longer exists,” the memorandum explains.

“Oversight, statewide standards, and benchmarks are not incompatible with local control. The Learning Standards did not abrogate the Illinois School Code, which vests local school districts with a great deal of authority. The State Board, by administratively issuing the Learning Standards, could not and did not abrogate Article X of the School Code, a lengthy statutory section defining the powers and duties of school boards,” it continues.

“Just as the basic, day-to-responsibility for education remains a local responsibility, funding for education is still largely a function of local property taxes supplemented with aid from the state level. These interrelated formulas are a product of statute which of course the Learning Standards could not override,” the memorandum states.

Madigan argues that the entire complaint against Rauner should be dismissed, claiming he is not a proper party and no relief can be granted against him.

“The Governor does not administer the school funding system, and an injunction directed at the Governor would be futile because he simply cannot redirect funds to local school districts without legislative appropriation,” Madigan argues.

The motion to dismiss and supporting memorandum were written by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Ioppolo.

The three-count complaint 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.

Furthermore, they say state law bars them from going into debt in order to achieve the learning standards.

Simply put, they claim they must meet tougher requirements with less money and cannot go into debt while doing it.

They also allege that in every plaintiff district, test scores have dropped dramatically due to financial aid erosion.

The school districts suing the state are located in St. Clair, Bond, Christian, Fayette, Jersey, Macoupin, Madison, Montgomery and Peoria Counties.

The Madison and St. Clair County school districts suing the state include Wood River-Hartford School District Number 15, Bethalto Community Unit School District Number 8 and Cahokia Unit School District Number 187.

St. Clair County Circuit Court case number 17-CH-301

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Organizations in this Story

Despres Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd. Illinois State Board of Education Law Offices of Thomas E. Kennedy, III, L.C. St. Clair County Circuit Court State of Illinois