In a response to several school districts’ opposition to their motion to dismiss, defendants named in a school funding dispute argue that it is the “legislature’s exclusive constitutional authority” to allocate state funds.
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 Gov. Bruce 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 defendants filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on June 15, arguing that the “current system is undoubtedly constitutional.”
The school districts filed a memorandum in opposition to the defendants’ motion to dismiss on July 19, arguing that the state defendants have no legal immunity from claims of violations of the Illinois Constitution and that they have proper standing to bring claims on behalf of the students.
The defendants filed a reply memorandum of law in support of their motion to dismiss on Aug. 9 through assistant attorney general Thomas A. Ioppolo.
Ioppolo argues that sovereign immunity applies in this case because the defendants include the State and the State Board of Education.
“Even though the Governor is also a defendant, that does not remove the bar of sovereign immunity because there is no claim the Governor is acting ultra vires or in violation of the Constitution. The Governor cannot unilaterally spend state funds for education or any other purpose without a legislative appropriation, so an injunction directed solely at his office would have no effect in achieving the relief plaintiffs seek,” he wrote.
The plaintiffs seek more funds from the state treasury to the local school districts, which Ioppolo says confirms that the sovereign immunity bar applies.
“This suit specifically seeks to override the legislature’s exclusive constitutional authority to decide how much money should be spent on public education (and other public purposes) during a fiscal year. How the Court could apply a judicially-manageable standard to determine what that amount should be, or how the Court would evaluate additional amounts the legislature would approve, is left undefined. Nowhere in the complaint do the districts seek a particular dollar amount,” he wrote.
Ioppolo also argues that the plaintiffs don’t have the standing to sue on behalf of the students.
“They are responsible for delivering an education, but cannot assert the rights of persons receiving the education. None of the plaintiffs in this case are students or their parents,” he wrote.
The districts rely on the School Code, which states that districts may stand in the relation of parents in matters pertaining to discipline and conduct of the schools.
“The ability of teachers and staff to impose discipline does not mean that school districts have the general right to sue on behalf of students for alleged violations of the students’ constitutional rights. The statute is limited to matters of discipline in the daily operation of schools, and does not confer standing on school districts to maintain a suit of this type,” Ioppolo wrote.
He also argues that the State Mandates Act does not advance the plaintiffs’ arguments because their arguments are based on the Education Article.
“This statutory exemption reflects a clear expression by the legislature that if local school districts made any curriculum adjustments based on the Learning Standards, they were expected to do so using their existing resources – local sources of funding supplemented by state aid. Local units of government are creatures of state law, and there is no constitutional requirement that there be a Mandates Act in the first place. In any event, that statute has no bearing here on the question of standing or on the merits,” Ioppolo wrote.
Further, the defendants allege Article X, section 1 of the Constitution “does not impose legally enforceable duties on the legislature regarding quality of education and does not create a private right of action which can be enforced in civil litigation against the State.”
“Plaintiffs would have this Court simply reallocate funds, increase the Foundation Level for local school districts, or order the legislature to do so, which would take money from other needs or require the legislature to increase taxes,” Ioppolo wrote. “There is no constitutional basis for relief of that type.”
He also argues that the plaintiffs fail to provide any relevant authority to support their claim that funding disparities constitute a denial of equal protection.
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