On February 22, 2017, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) unanimously voted to settle a Chicago Urban League lawsuit challenging the state’s school funding system on the basis that it disparately impacts low-income and minority students. Jenner & Block has served as pro bono counsel to the Urban League throughout the litigation, which began in 2008.
In 2009, the lawsuit survived a key legal hurdle when a Cook County judge denied, in part, the defendant’s motion to dismiss, ruling that the plaintiffs had stated a valid claim under the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. It was the first school funding case that had been able to advance past the initial claims. ISBE agreed to settle the case against the backdrop of the plaintiffs’ pending motion for summary judgment.
The settlement will end the Board of Education’s “proration” practice for decreasing funding, which was an across-the-board method of cutting funding to districts when there is insufficient money available for the state to meet its required payments. The lawsuit alleged that this practice disparately impacted school districts with a majority of black and Hispanic students. The settlement will require that, in the event of a funding shortfall, state aid will be distributed based on student and district need.
The case was filed by a team led by former partner Lisa T. Scruggs, who has continued to lead the case in recent years as co-counsel with firm Partners Robert L. Graham and David J. Bradford. Partner Gail H. Morse was also a member of the team working on this matter. Of Counsel Benjamin K. Miller also made valuable contributions to the case, as did Associates Kathryn Hunt Muse, Ramon Villalpando, Briana Sprick Schuster and Reena Sikdar. Paralegals Jessica Merkouris and Mary Patston also assisted. Other team members through the years included former partner Sandi Toll; former associates Herbert C. Brown, Brian L. Dougherty, Grace S. Ho, Stephanie Jean-Jacques, Shannon J. Jones, Katherine Neville, Kyle A. Palazzolo and Elie Zenner; former litigation counsel Shyni R. Varghese; and former paralegal Gabriella Guajardo.