Two weeks after leading more than 2000 parents and students to a suburban high school in a first-day-of-school boycott to highlight education funding disparities by the state, State Sen. James Meeks finally got what he wanted.
The South Side senator and pastor met with Gov. Blagojevich at a South Side Church on Monday to discuss education funding. Meeks led a boycott on the first day of school Sept. 1, keeping roughly 1000 Chicago Public Schools students out of class the first day.
Meeks ended his four-day campaign on Sept. 3, just two days after 2,000 parents and students descended on New Trier High School in Winnetka to register their kids for there. Meeks called off the boycott after Blagojevich initially refused to have any discussions on school funding reform while students were held out of school.
But the governor finally agreed to meet with Meeks to discuss the senator’s $120 million pilot program targeting struggling schools. No commitment was made on the program after Monday’s meeting, but both sides agreed to further talks. Meeks organized the Sept. 1, protest concerning the funding disparity to poorer schools. The boycott continued that week with scores of students spending part of the day in downtown office buildings receiving tutoring from retired teachers and business leaders.
Meeks had been angling for a meeting with the governor, House Speaker Mike Madigan and outgoing Senate President Emil Jones. The South Side senator tried to snag a meeting between the three state party leaders at the Democratic National Convention in late August, but that failed to materialize. Meeks’ $120 million pilot program to boost academic performance of failing schools would need support in the Democratic-controlled state legislature.
He has proposed several initiatives to swap property taxes in favor of income taxes to support schools, contending 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 had said he wants the governor to keep his 2006 campaign promise to fund schools 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.”
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.”