In a bid to highlight funding inequalities at Illinois public schools, Chicago community leaders called on students from poorer parts of Chicago to skip the first day of classes and spend the day instead trying to enroll at a school in a wealthy suburban
In a bid to highlight funding inequalities at Illinois public schools, Chicago community leaders called on students from poorer parts of Chicago to skip the first day of classes and spend the day instead trying to enroll at a school in a wealthy suburban district.
Critics of the planned Sept. 2 protest say it will undermine campaigns to get as many Chicago students as possible to attend the first day of classes and send the wrong message to children.
Protest organizers, though, say their message about unequal funding trumps any on attendance.
“Today we are back to two-tiered schools–white and affluent on one side, and Black, brown and poor on the other,” said state Sen. James Meeks, pastor of Salem Baptist Church. “That’s an injustice and it’s immoral.”
Meeks said he expects several thousand Chicago students to take part by traveling in a caravan of buses to New Trier Township High School in the leafy, North Shore suburb of Winnetka, where they will attempt to enroll.
Overhauling how public schools are funded in Illinois has been hotly debated for years but to little avail.
Reformers want the state to move away from a system where money for local schools derives largely from local property taxes, saying the status quo results in vastly better funding of schools in property-rich neighborhoods.
State statistics, for instance, indicate that the New Trier district spends around $17,000 annually on each of its students compared to around $10,000 a year Chicago public schools are able to spend.
“We, as a civilized people, can’t do it this way,” Meeks said. “We’re doing irreparable harm to hundreds of thousands of kids.”
Officials at New Trier Township High School District 203 said it wasn’t yet clear how they’ll deal logistically with so many Chicago students showing up at one time to attempt to enroll at the high school.
“We have sympathy for the issue of school funding. But I think (Meeks) is harming his cause by doing this,” said the district’s superintendent, Linda Yonke. New Trier starts Aug. 21.
She said she would have to consult lawyers to see if the district might be obliged to enroll any of the Chicago students.
Meeks said the protesters would seek to enroll based on state rules allowing students to transfer to another district if their safety’s at risk. The inferior education they receive in Chicago, he said, “was not good for the safety of their futures.”
Officials at Chicago Public Schools said they also sympathized with the planned protest but couldn’t support it.
“We appreciate Rev. Meeks’ efforts to spotlight the inequities in our state-funding structure, but we want our students in our schools on Sept. 2,” said CPS spokesman Mike Vaughn. “We want to make sure students hit the ground running, and that starts with being in school the first day, the first week, the first month. It sets the tone for the rest of the school year.”
Organizers initially worried the protest could result in even less money going to cash-strapped schools since state funding is partially tied to school attendance.
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