Chicago schools to end academic year early unless they get more funds

CHICAGO (AP) - Chicago Public Schools officials on Monday said the nation's third largest school system will end the academic year three weeks early if the state of Illinois does not provide enough funds to close a deficit and provide teacher pension fund release.

The school district has gone to court to accuse the state of creating separate and unequal systems for funding public education. They contend one is for Chicago, whose students are 90 percent non-white, and one for the rest of Illinois, which is predominantly white.

The district filed a motion Monday in Cook County Circuit Court seeking a preliminary injunction barring the state from disbursing education funds until it adequately funds Chicago schools.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said the June 1 closure is a "worst-case scenario," if a judge doesn't expedite the lawsuit or if Gov. Bruce Rauner and lawmakers don't act.

"We will work to find any options to avoid a shortened school year," Claypool said during a news conference.

In a letter to parents, Claypool said that in addition to the possibility of finishing the school year ahead of the scheduled end date of June 20, summer school would be cancelled for all but special education students.

The nearly 400,000-student district recently instituted a spending freeze, program cuts and furlough days because the roughly $5.4 billion budget was contingent upon $215 million in pension relief from the state. Rauner, who's accused the district of years of fiscal mismanagement, vetoed it. State officials have also said that Chicago received hundreds of millions of dollars in block grants that other districts aren't eligible for.

Illinois disperses money to schools through a complex calculation that provides per-student funding that even state officials acknowledge is insufficient, causing school districts to rely heavily on local property tax revenues. There's wide consensus that the 1997 formula is unfair with a wide spending gap between low and high poverty districts, like Chicago. But there's little agreement on how to overhaul it and the nearly two-year state budget impasse has overshadowed other issues at the Capitol.

In a statement, Education Secretary Beth Purvis said children statewide continue to be impacted by Illinois' broken school funding formula.

"Now is the time for CEO Claypool to engage in a constructive process to pass a balanced budget with changes that would help schools across the state, including those in Chicago," Purvis said.