Chicago Black Leaders Call for School Boycott Draws Fire

By Terry Keleher Aug 14, 2008

New battle lines are being drawn as African Americans grow increasingly impatient with funding inequities in Illinois schools. Fifty ministers, lead by Sen. James Meeks who pastors one of the largest churches in the state, have called for a boycott of the first days of school to protest longstanding funding inequities. Rev. Al Sharpton has also announced his support for the boycott. At a recent downtown rally attended by more than 1000 people, the ministers urged students to enroll at New Trier High School, one of the state’s wealthiest schools, located in the north suburbs. The pastors are also asking students to camp out and hold classes in the lobbies of several of Chicago’s largest businesses. But earlier this week, another group of clergy called for a different tactic – asking fathers to escort their children to class on the opening day of school on Sep. 2. This effort, billed as the 5th annual Million Father March, is an initiative of the Chicago-based Black Star Project, which promotes parental involvement in schools. The opposing tactics for how to start off the new school year have been accompanied by some harsh criticisms between local leaders. Hoping to quell and redirect the conflict, the Black aldermen on Chicago’s City Council also weighed in with a press conference this week. They announced that they weren’t taking sides among the dueling tactics, but were calling for immediate legislative action to address school funding problems. Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich has called a special session of the legislature this week, but little action or resolution is expected. A deep impasse between the governor and top legislative leaders over revenue options has brought to a standstill most major legislation in Illinois since the beginning of the year. Illinois’ system of public school funding ranks among the most inequitable in the nation, due to an over-reliance on property taxes. Wealthy school districts spend up to $19,000 more per pupil than the poorest districts. The average Black student receives $1,153 less each year in funding than the average white student. The graduation rate at New Trier High School is 99.8%, compared to many Chicago high schools where more than half of Black students do not graduate. Sen. Meeks has sponsored legislation to overhaul school funding but the Governor and legislative leaders have failed to reach agreement and take needed action. Drastic inequities warrant drastic action. The question is what action will get the ball moving before students of color are cheated out of another year of the quality education that they deserve–and that so many white students in the state are already receiving.