of the worst school funding systems in the nation will soon make a preliminary
appearance before the Illinois Supreme Court on a motion to dismiss,
in Carr v. Koch. Illinois's funding system earns an "F" on fairness
in the National
Report Card because it provides far less funding to its high-poverty school
districts than its wealthier districts. Students in high-needs communities
are being shortchanged.
In two earlier litigations that directly challenged the equity or adequacy of the funding system, the state's supreme court deferred to "local control" and the legislature. In 1996, in Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, the court noted that the Illinois funding system was inequitable, but also ruled that the system was "rationally related to the legitimate State goal of promoting local control" over education.
Local control is now gone, according to the Carr plaintiffs. In their brief to the Illinois Supreme Court, they argue that, in 1996, "local school districts made virtually all [educational] decisions." Since then, they assert, "the landscape has changed dramatically," with state-mandated learning standards, tests, and "imposition of severe penalties by the State on local districts that fail to meet the standards."
The Carr plaintiffs are taxpayers, who claim the state funding system violates the Illinois constitution's equal protection clause because residents of low-property-wealth districts pay significantly higher tax rates, yet have lower per-pupil spending.
The State defendants claim that plaintiffs do not have standing, and the appellate court agreed. The state's motion to dismiss is now before the supreme court on plaintiffs' appeal. The parties are filing their briefs with the court this spring.