K-12 public schools in Illinois enroll more than 2 million students, with 39% in poverty, 10% learning English, 44% minorities, and annual expenditures a little under $22 billion. (Most recent NCES data)
In the 1990’s, the Illinois Supreme Court twice denied claims based on the state constitution’s “high quality public education” article, finding that the court lacked “judicially manageable standards” for determining a high quality education.
In 2009, plaintiffs filed Chicago Urban League (CUL) v. Illinois, alleging that the state’s school funding system violates the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. The court denied the state’s motion to dismiss, and the parties are preparing for trial.
In 2012, the state supreme court affirmed the lower courts’ dismissal of Carr v. Koch, in which plaintiff taxpayers claimed that the state school funding system violated the state constitution’s equal protection clause because residents of low-property-wealth districts pay higher tax rates, yet have lower per-pupil spending.
In 1973, in Blase v. State, the Supreme Court of Illinois held that the constitutional provision giving the state the "primary responsibility for financing the system of public education" was intended to express a goal or objective, not impose a specific obligation on the general assembly.
In 1996, in Committee for Educational Rights v. Edgar, the state supreme court held that it did not have “judicially manageable standards” by which to determine whether the State was providing the high quality of education required by the Illinois Constitution.
In 1999, in Lewis E. v. Spagnolo, the same court rejected plaintiffs’ attempt to distinguish Edgar from their “adequacy” claims and characterized the case as “once again” asking the court to “enter the arena of Illinois public school policy.”
In CUL v. State, the trial court denied the state’s motion to dismiss plaintiffs’ claim that the state school funding scheme has a demonstrable, disparate, and adverse impact on minority students, in violation of the Illinois Civil Rights Act of 2003. Plaintiffs allege that, (1) because the school funding system relies too heavily on local property taxes, students who attend schools in low-property-wealth communities do not receive an equal educational opportunity, despite significantly higher property tax rates, and (2) this burden falls primarily on “majority minority districts.” The parties are preparing for trial.
In 2010, in Carr v. Koch, plaintiff taxpayers filed suit seeking a declaratory judgment that the finance system violates the state constitution’s equal protection clause because residents of low-property-wealth districts pay higher tax rates, yet have lower per-pupil spending. The circuit court granted the state’s motion to dismiss, and the appellate court and Illinois Supreme Court affirmed (2012).
“A fundamental goal of the People of the State is the educational development of all persons to the limits of their capacities. The State shall provide for an efficient system of high quality public educational institutions and services. Education in public schools through the secondary level shall be free. There may be such other free education as the General Assembly provides by law. The State has the primary responsibility for financing the system of public education.” Il. Const. art. 10, §1.
The Illinois Supreme Court, in Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, declined to establish a judicial standard for a constitutionally compliant education, stating that "[w]hat constitutes a ‘high quality’ education…cannot be ascertained by any judicially…manageable standards. Rather, the question of educational quality is inherently one of policy." 672 N.E.2d 1178 (1996).
In Comm. for Educ. Rights v. Edgar, one of plaintiffs’ claims was that the level of preschool funding provided by the state was insufficient and therefore violated the state constitution. The court did not directly address this claim but held generally that the state’s funding system was a matter for the legislature.
In Rogy's New Generation, Inc. v. Dep’t of Revenue, 742 N.E.2d 443 (2000), the appellate court held that licensed day care centers for prekindergarten children claiming tax-exempt status were not "organized and operated exclusively for educational purposes" because there is "no governmental obligation to educate [children under the age of five]."
Illinois’s Preschool for All program is rated an exceptionally high 9 out of 10 on the established quality indicators. During 2009-2010, it served 31% of 4-year-olds and 19% of 3-year-olds.
Starting in 2006, Illinois’ Preschool for All initiative expanded eligibility for state funded pre-K to include all age-eligible children, as long as the provider serves primarily at-risk children or children from families with incomes up to 400% of the federal poverty level. The legislature launched the Preschool for All initiative to establish the policy goal of making this voluntary pre-K program available to all families.
Currently, the program is available in all counties and all public school districts. Private providers are also encouraged to apply for grants. Eligible applicants may subcontract with other providers. Collaboration with Head Start is required.
Children who are undocumented aliens cannot be denied access to the program.
There is no required length for the pre-K program. The program duration is determined locally based upon available resources and needs of the children. Most programs operate on a half-day schedule, 5 days per week.
Preschool for All grew out of the Illinois Prekindergarten Program for Children At Risk of Academic Failure, adopted in 1985.
Both programs are funded through grants. The Pre-K Program for Children At Risk is funded through an Early Childhood Block Grant, which is distributed on a competitive basis. At least 11% of the block grant must be used to serve children age 3 and under.
For Preschool for All, the State Board of Education administers grants for public schools and other entities to conduct pre-K programs. The State Superintendent of Education determines the grant award amounts according to a list of criteria.
First priority funding is given to applicants serving 51% or more children who are determined to be at risk of academic failure. Among the risk factors, are children with development delays, parents with little education, poverty, exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, and a history of abuse or neglect. Second priority funding is given to those serving families earning up to 4 times the federal poverty level.
Parents and guardians may not be charged fees for their children to participate in pre-K programs.
According to the National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER), Illinois served 31% of all 4-year-olds in its state preschool program in 2009-2010 and 19% of 3-year-olds.
The annual NIEER analysis rates Preschool for All at 9 out of 10.
Teaching quality standards are strong and class size and ratio are limited. The program has screening, referral, and support services and monitors and conducts site visits.
However, the program only provides a snack and not a meal at least once during the day for students, failing this benchmark.
Pre-K education programs must submit annual reports on the extent to which program objectives have been accomplished. New programs are also reviewed annually.