Illinois' Economy Spurs Actions on Education Funding

Last Updated: April 29, 2010

This article appeared in the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters

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A new school funding lawsuit in Illinois claims discrimination against taxpayers based upon where they live. The suit claims that because property values in the state vary so widely, homeowners in property-poor communities are forced to pay higher rates. This is the first lawsuit in Illinois brought by taxpayers claiming equal protection violations.

The lawsuit defines property-poor districts as those in the bottom one-third of property values. Illinois annually sets a “foundation level” for per-pupil financial support, provides a portion of that foundation amount, and requires local districts to impose property taxes to reach a certain level. Plaintiffs in the suit argue that taxpayers in property-poor districts must tax themselves at much higher rates to collect the required funding, and that, despite those efforts, per-pupil spending is lower than in property-rich districts.

Currently, there is one other school finance lawsuit pending in the state. That suit was brought by the Chicago Urban League and claims that the school funding system is racially discriminatory.

Earlier school funding lawsuits in the state resulted in rulings that court action on school finance issues is inappropriate intervention in public policy matters. And, one of the decisions from the 1990’s also held that any funding disparities among local districts are rationally related to maintaining the principle of local control of schools. The current suit argues that additional state mandates have now made local control irrelevant.

The economic crisis has also prompted renewed calls for district consolidation, which Illinois refers to as “school district reorganization.” Governor Pat Quinn has spoken in favor of consolidation, and some lawmakers plan to introduce legislation encouraging consolidation. Illinois already has a number of financial incentives for consolidation, and a Chicago Tribune analysis of school district mergers found that most districts that have consolidated in the last ten years spent more after consolidation than before.

Read more:

Local coverage of the school finance lawsuit:

Editorial on the school funding inequities, including a link to the plaintiffs’ complaint:

Coverage of consolidation efforts:

Illinois State Board of Education District Reorganization policies:

Summary of current consolidation efforts in other states, including Maine, Vermont, and Mississippi, featuring comments by The Rural Trust’s Marty Strange:

Read more from the April 2010 Rural Policy Matters.