Madison - St. Clair Record

Sunday, October 13, 2019

School districts file opposition to Rauner, state’s motion to dismiss school funding dispute

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Jul 28, 2017

In an opposition against the state’s motion to dismiss a dispute over school funding, several school districts argue that the “voluntary” Learning Standards are mandated by required tests that help define the students’ college admission.

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.

The defendnats filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on June 15, arguing that 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.

The memorandum also states that Rauner is not the proper defendant.

“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," the memorandum states.

The defendants add 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 filed a memorandum in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss on July 19 through attorney Michael Persoon, Thomas Geoghegan, and Sean Morales-Doyle of Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd. in Chicago.

Persoon argues that under the State Lawsuits Immunity Act, the state defendants have no legal immunity from claims of violations of the Illinois Constitution.

“In all the challenges to school funding under the Illinois Constitution, no court has ever imposed a bar of sovereign immunity,” the opposition states.

“But it is fundamental that no statute can insulate the State defendants when they invade constitutional rights, or violate the Constitution itself which is a higher order law,” it continues.

Persoon explains that the defendants argue that the districts can only sue an officer of the state and that the governor is the wrong officer.

He argues that Rauner is the correct officer to sue.

“The Governor has to approve the General Assembly’s allocation of funds to the school districts – he is part of the process that has led to the failure to fund the mandates.

“Furthermore, he appoints the State Board of Education and the Superintendent of Education – the officers who create and administer the Learning Standards.

“As chief executive officer he is ultimately responsible for the enforcement of the laws …” the opposition states.

Persoon also argues that the districts have standing to bring these claims – both on their own behalf and on behalf of their students.

“No Illinois court has ever questioned the capacity of a school district to represent its students. To the contrary, the courts have assumed there is such a capacity,” the opposition states.

Persoon argues that districts can make claims regarding the constitutional rights of the students just as parents could sue on behalf of their minor children.

In regards to the defendants’ argument that the Learning Standards are not detailed or specific, the districts argue that the standards are hundreds of pages long.

“The standards as to what the children must know and when they must know it are specific and detailed,” the opposition states.

“Furthermore, the defendants are just factually wrong that meeting the standards is voluntary and in this respect the parties are in a factual dispute that cannot be resolved on a motion to dismiss,” it continues.

Persoon wrote that the students are assessed on the standards and admission to state universities depend on whether they pass or fail the tests, which are mandatory.

“There is nothing ‘voluntary’ about the PARCC assessments and under state law, the consequences of failure are severe,” the opposition states.

Persoon also wrote that if the districts ignore the Learning Standards, parents would move their children elsewhere.

He argues that even if the Common Core and Learning Standards were not mandatory, they still provide a specific definition of “high quality” education.

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.

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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