State Sen. James Meeks abruptly ended his four-day boycott of poorly funded Chicago Public Schools just two days after 2,000 parents and students descended on New Trier High School to register their kids for there.
Meeks called off the boycott last Wednesday after Gov. Blagojevich refused to have any discussions on school funding reform while students were held out of school in early September.
The Sept. 2-3 boycott, which Meeks organized to protest the disparity funding poorer schools, ended after scores of students spent part of last Sept. 4 in downtown office buildings.
There they received educational instruction from volunteer retired teachers and corporate CEOs. Meeks hopes to meet with the governor, House Speaker Mike Madigan and outgoing Senate President Emil Jones this week, but no date has been set.
However, Meeks said he is confident that a meeting with all three will happen. Meeks tried to snag a meeting between the three at the Democratic National Convention, but that failed to materialized. Meeks wanted to discuss his $120 million pilot program to boost academic performance of several failing schools.
“I received several calls from [the governor’s] office since then and we are even trying to work out the details of a meeting as we speak. So, yes, I believe he is going to stick to it,” Meeks said.
The state senator and pastor has proposed several initiatives to swap property taxes in favor of income taxes to fund schools. Meeks contends the state contributes nearly 30 percent to education while property taxes pay the remaining 70 percent, ranking Illinois 49th in the nation in education funding.
Meeks wants the governor to keep his 2006 campaign promise of funding education through the sale or lease of the state lottery. When told that Madigan wants to use any monies from that deal for capital improvement projects, Meeks responded: “I want to see it for education.”
Rev. Marshall Hatch of the Leaders Network is optimistic about the meeting.
“They have to hash out where to find the money and how to address it,” said Hatch, pastor of New Mt Pilgrim Baptist Church.
Attendance high on first day
Meanwhile, on the same day Meeks staged the boycott, CPS posted record first-day attendance of 93.7 percent, a slight increase from the previous year. CPS officials attributed the high rate to an aggressive back-to-school campaign.
“While the call for a boycott had little impact on our attendance, we are happy that those calling for [it] were able to focus a lot of attention on our severe need for better state funding,” said CPS Chief Arne Duncan in a press statement.
However, Meeks contends the boycott was successful despite the high attendance number, which he noted has been high every year since 2000.
“They reported high attendance numbers in 2007 and their computers were down,” Meeks said. “Nobody ever verifies them. Nobody checks them out. Nobody from the press ever checks.”