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Students in Chicago Public Schools suffer from gross inequities in education funding, compared to other school districts, because the system the state uses is based on property taxes, and not some other formula that would equalize spending. Because of tha

Students in Chicago Public Schools suffer from gross inequities in education funding, compared to other school districts, because the system the state uses is based on property taxes and not some other formula that would equalize spending.

Because of that, a group of well-meaning ministers, led by state Sen. Rev. James Meeks, is planning a boycott of the first week of school in Chicago to call attention to the funding disparity. This “Save Our Schools” group wants CPS students to stay home the first day, Sept. 2, and busloads of students would go to the New Trier district in Winnetka (where school starts Aug. 21) and attempt to register for school. The group also wants the children to take part in civil disobedience the next couple of days by visiting downtown businesses and just sitting in. They want the poor education these students are getting to be highlighted by them staying out of class.

Ok, does that make sense to anyone?

Every day one of our children spends out of school is a day lost. Every day one of our children is out of school is a signal that school attendance is optional. Every day one of our children is out of school is the first step to a career of truancy and even poorer academic performance. Every day one of our children spends out of school puts that student one day closer to dropping out, like half of his classmates.

Unfortunately, some of the days they are spending in school seem to be lost, according to a rising tide of statistics that point out just how badly our public schools are performing.

There is no easy answer to solving the problem of low achievement in our public schools. I’m not sure that money is the solution because it really depends upon how that money is used. I’ve seen school districts that spend more money and educate less. I’ve seen money lavished on teachers and administrators, and students still languish. I’ve seen students come to school ill-prepared and go home ill-prepared while money is spent on metal detectors and not books.

But certainly, Sen. Meeks and the ministers have a point. The disparity is dispiriting, and the inequities are inexcusable. Some suburban school districts have decided to pay more in property taxes to support their schools. It has resulted in $18,000 per-pupil expenditures in the New Trier district while the Chicago schools average $10,000.

That disparity is part of the reason why CPS students are receiving an inferior education, and, as a result, are not ready to enter the workforce, move on to higher education or compete in a technological society.

But it isn’t the only reason.

Somebody has to send a signal to these young people that they are important, and their education is important. Pulling them out of school for the first week says that education isn’t important. Using them to “highlight” the problem and drawing them into a political fight says that their education is not important.

There are two arenas here where this battle needs to be waged. First, the state legislature should work to come up with a solution to the funding inequality. They have to come up with a different formula for funding our schools that doesn’t punish our kids for being poor.

That is exactly why Sen. Meeks was elected. He should propose legislation that contains that kind of fix. He should lobby his fellow legislators, especially legislative leadership, to pass that legislation. He should exercise his considerable skills to shepherd that through Springfield.

But even given his skills and the fact that he is making the right argument (albeit in the wrong way), don’t expect to see a lot happen in Springfield. Suburban legislators and downstate legislators have been traditionally cool to the idea of helping Chicago public schools and delegations from CPS and ministers, and students have trekked downstate for years, coming back empty.

That’s why I agree with Rev. Al Sharpton (that doesn’t happen often) that there is a legal recourse. Fifty-four years after Brown vs. The Board of Education of Topeka, Kansas, we are witnessing a system of separate but unequal education in Illinois that not only violates that ruling but also violates the Illinois Constitution. Illinois already falls next to last in public education spending, and that ignominy has not prompted the legislature to act. It is obvious that they cannot be shamed.

It is not about “saving our schools.” It is about saving our students.

Lou Ransom is executive editor of the Chicago Defender. He can be reached via email at lransom@chicagodefender.com.

Copyright 2008 Chicago Defender. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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