Madison - St. Clair Record

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Illinois, Rauner move to dismiss school funding dispute

Lawsuits

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Aug 23, 2018


The State of Illinois and Gov. Bruce Rauner argue in their motion to dismiss a school funding dispute filed by 22 southern Illinois school districts, that their amended complaint involves an “insuperable separation of powers problem.”

St. Clair County Associate Judge Julie Katz scheduled a hearing on the matter for Oct. 2 at 1 p.m.

The complaint was originally filed in April by Despres, Schwartz & Geoghegan Ltd. in Chicago and the Law Offices of Thomas E. Kennedy III LC in St. Louis against Rauner, the State of Illinois and the Illinois State Board of Education. An amended complaint was filed May 21.

The two-count amended complaint says the state 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 defendants filed a motion to dismiss the original complaint, which was dropped after plaintiffs amended their complaint without one of their equal protection claims. The dropped claim alleged funding differences in school districts made it less likely for those students to earn college degrees from Illinois public universities.

The amended complaint was also filed after the General Assembly passed the Public Act 100-465, enacted on Aug. 31, 2017. The Act reformed the state’s school funding laws, including provisions for calculating state aid to school using evidence-based standards.

In a July 20 memorandum in support of the defendants’ second motion to dismiss in the case, assistant attorney general Thomas Ioppolo detailed the state's new funding formula provided by the Public Act.

Under the new formula, “the legislature appropriated an additional $350 million in additional funding. In the current budget just passed for fiscal year 2019, the legislature appropriated approximately $8 billion in general revenue funds for pre-k to 12 education … out of the total state budget of about $38.5 billion.”

The money appropriated for school funding from the general revenue amounts to nearly 21 percent of the state’s budget.

In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs allege the Illinois Learning Standards together with the Public Act create a constitutional mandate under the Education Article of the Illinois Constitution that the legislature devote more money to public education to ensure school districts have the resources to meet state imposed learning standards. They claim the current funding level is inadequate.

Ioppolo wrote that the plaintiffs seek an additional $7.2 billion, nearly doubling the funds appropriated for school funding.

Ioppolo wrote that schools are funded through a combination of local property taxes, state aid and federal funding.

“Because some districts are more affluent than others, it has long been known that school districts in some areas of the state have more revenue than other districts with a smaller tax base. Counties and local municipalities set local property tax rates, and residents can, within some limits, choose by referenda to raise their property tax rates,” Ioppolo wrote.

Under the new funding formula, distribution of state aid is more equitable, the state argues.

“After much debate and discussion of this critically important public policy issue, the passage of this Act has been called an historic reform,” the memorandum states.

“The goal is to look at each school district individually when calculating the amount of aid it gets, according to certain ‘evidence-based’ criteria, making adjustments for differing labor costs in different regions of the state,” it continues.

Ioppolo further argues in the motion to dismiss that the case is barred by the doctrine of sovereign immunity, “which deprives the circuit court of jurisdiction in suits brought against the State of Illinois, its agencies and departments, and, in appropriate cases, state officials such as the governor.”

He wrote that the school districts lack standing to sue over the rights of third parties, their students.

Ioppolo argues that the plaintiffs fail to state a cause of action because the Illinois constitution does not compel the state to fund public education at a specific monetary level.

“The equal protection claim also fails as a matter of law because school funding decisions, local control of education, and the operation of the Learning Standards are rationally related to legitimate state interests,” the motion states. “Questions of how to fund public education are left to the legislative branch of government.”

Ioppolo further wrote that Rauner is not a proper party in the complaint.

In the memorandum, Ioppolo wrote that the “challenge is to the school funding statutes and amounts appropriated under them – which the governor does not control through any discretionary act on his part. Nor does the governor directly administer the Learning Standards.”

“An injunction directed to the governor would be futile because he cannot simply redirect funds to local school districts without legislative appropriation. The real party defendant in interest here is the state, against whom the school districts seek an award of funds. Accordingly, sovereign immunity bars plaintiffs’ claims and the circuit court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to hear this case,” the memorandum continues.

The case involves “insuperable separation of powers problem” because “only the legislature can appropriate funds and raise taxes; the judicial branch is not in a position to simply rewrite the complex set of local property tax and state funding laws which combined support public education,” Ioppolo wrote.

He wrote that learning standards did not strip the school districts of local control. He wrote that board members are locally elected, the board is responsible for hiring the district superintendent, school districts manage their own finances and school districts appoint teachers and enter into contracts.

“The new state funding formula, though it significantly changes how state aid is distributed to school districts, does not eliminate local control,” the memorandum states.

The school districts suing the state include: Bethalto Community Unity School District Number 8, Bond County Community Unit School District, Bunker Hill Community Unit School District Number 8, Cahokia Unit School District Number 187, Carlinville Community Unit School District, Gillispie Community Unit School District, Grany Central Consolidated School District, Illinois Valley Central Community Unit School District, Mt. Olive Community Unit School District, Mulberry Grove Community Unit School District, Nokomis Community Unit School District, Pana Community Unit School District, Southwestern Community Unit School District, Staunton Community Unit School District, Taylorville Community Unit School District, Vandalia Community Unit School District and Wood River Hartford School District Number 15

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

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