August 21, 2008

The Chicago Urban League has filed a lawsuit against the State of Illinois and the Illinois State Board of Education calling for the state’s current school funding scheme to be declared unconstitutional and in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. A Jenner & Block team led by Partner Lisa T. Scruggs is serving as pro bono counsel for the Chicago Urban League in this lawsuit, which asserts that the state of Illinois has, for decades, discriminated against students based on race and has deprived African American, Latino and other minority children of a high quality education.

The lawsuit, which was filed in the Circuit Court of Cook County, was announced Wednesday at a press conference held at the Chicago Urban League headquarters. “Today we have gone to court to seek an end to decades of inadequate and unequal funding the State of Illinois has given our schools,” said Cheryle R. Jackson, president and CEO of the Chicago Urban League.

Ms. Scruggs spoke at the press conference addressing details and claims made in the lawsuit.  “We are happy to be working with the Chicago Urban League on this matter and we look forward to litigating these issues,” she said. 

The lawsuit challenges the State’s method for raising and distributing education funds to local school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education’s implementation of the system. The Urban League asserts that the State’s public school funding scheme disparately impacts racial and ethnic minority students who attend Majority-Minority Districts in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003, violates the Uniformity of Taxation provision of the Illinois Constitution, violates students’ rights to attend “high quality educational institution” guaranteed by the Education Article under the Illinois Constitution, and violates students’ right to equal protection under the Illinois Constitution.

“No matter your race, gender, or economic status, students receiving low quality education affects all of us. An underfunded system leads to low quality education, and underachieving students,” said Ms. Jackson in a statement. “A child’s limitation should only be how big they can dream not which school district they happen to live in. This vicious cycle must end now.”

Also supporting the Urban League’s lawsuit and attending the press conference were numerous civil rights groups, ministers, education advocates and administrators including: Theodia Gillespie president and CEO of the Quad County Urban League, a co-plaintiff in the lawsuit; Mary Ellen Guest, campaign manager, A+ Illinois; Arne Duncan, CEO, Chicago Public Schools; Rev. Jesse L. Jackson, Sr., founder and president, Rainbow PUSH Coalition; Karl Brinson, president, NAACP Chicago, Westside branch; Dr. Byron Brazier; pastor, Apostolic Church of God; Dr. Leon Finney, pastor, Metropolitan Apostolic Community Church; Dr. Marshall Hatch, pastor, New Mt. Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church; Rev. Sen. James T. Meeks, pastor, Salem Baptist Church of Chicago; Rev. Otis Moss III, pastor, Trinity United Church of Christ and Rev. Stephen Thurston II, co-pastor, New Covenant Missionary Baptist Church. 

In addition to Ms. Scruggs, the Jenner & Block team of attorneys working on this matter include Partners, David J. Bradford, Robert L. Graham and Associates Sandi J. Toll, Shannon J. Jones, Grace S. Ho and Brian L. Dougherty. Associate J. Andrew Hirth made valuable contributions to the case.

Please click here to view a copy of the complaint.