SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois Supreme Court heard arguments Tuesday in a lawsuit by two homeowners challenging the state’s school funding system.
Ron Newell of Cairo and Paul Carr of Chicago Heights say the current method discriminates against taxpayers based on where they live and violates the equal protection clause of the state constitution.
They say they pay higher property tax rates because they live in poorer school districts, while owners of similarly valued homes in wealthier districts pay a lower rate.
“The plaintiffs having to pay more taxes ... to reach the same level of funding, that’s unequal treatment,” said attorney Alexander Polikoff, who is representing Newell and Carr.
The case comes 15 years after the court issued a ruling upholding the state’s educational funding system, saying it was a matter of local control. But that decision was based on the effect of a property tax-based funding scheme on school students, not property owners.
Under the scenario presented to the court, a Chicago Heights property is taxed at a rate 2.5 times higher than a similar property in Winnetka, a wealthier suburb north of Chicago.
A similar scenario exists in Cairo, which has low property values.
Attorney Paul Berks, representing the Illinois State Board of Education, called on the court to follow the lead of lower courts, which ruled to dismiss the case.
Berks said the state makes up for shortfalls in poorer districts. Cairo, for example, receives more than $7,000 in state funding for each student, compared to thousands less in wealthier districts. That means Newell and Carr are not being treated unfairly.
“There is no injury to these plaintiffs,” Berks told the court.
If successful, the case could send the issue of school funding to the General Assembly, which this year reduced spending on schools by millions of dollars because of ongoing budget woes.