School-Funding Protest Moves From North Shore to Chicago Corporations
The civics lesson for hundreds of Chicago Public Schools students who skipped the first day of classes to protest Illinois education funding shifts Wednesday from the North Shore to corporate America.
The Rev. James Meeks, a state senator organizing the boycott, is scheduled to send buses of students to the lobbies of more than a dozen downtown Chicago businesses as part of a teach-in.
Some of the same students who traveled to New Trier High School's Northfield campus on Tuesday are expected to sit in the lobbies of buildings including the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, City Hall, Boeing Corp. and Aon Insurance, according to a Meeks spokeswoman. Forty educators will deliver four hours of daily instruction during the boycott that's expected to last through Friday.
The anticipated teach-in comes a day after nearly 1,000 Chicago students sporting book bags and name tags got a tutorial in civic action aimed at spotlighting the disparities in Illinois public education. They missed the first day of city classes and instead attempted to register at two North Shore schools where educators and residents welcomed them.
Critics charged the symbolic, well-orchestrated protest shortchanged students of a day's education and Chicago Public Schools of more than $100,000 in potential reimbursement from the state. Mayor Richard Daley on Tuesday described the boycott as "very selfish." Gov. Rod Blagojevich said students "should not be used as political pawns."
Meeks (D-Chicago), defended his tactics. Standing outside New Trier, Meeks urged Blagojevich and legislative leaders to call an emergency session to address how Illinois funds public schools.
"If they can call an emergency session for capital projects, they can call an emergency session to deal with education. This is human capital," Meeks said. "This is a 30-year problem, the system of funding education."
Blagojevich said he will not meet with Meeks during the boycott, spokesman Lucio Guerrero said. He also affirmed the governor's opposition to raising income taxes as part of a funding solution.
The protest appears unlikely to spur lawmakers to address funding disparities between schools, an issue that has stymied them for decades. Still, the unprecedented influx of mostly black students from Chicago to the predominantly white, affluent New Trier highlighted the long-simmering school funding topic, many said.
"The reality is it's not going to happen today. Sometimes small numbers have to make a lot of noise, and I appreciate that," said New Trier parent Megan Davy of Kenilworth. "This is civil disobedience at its finest."
Thirty buses collected students, parents and religious leaders from eight city churches for the trip north, including the Salem Baptist Church where Meeks serves as pastor.
Tribune reporters Monique Garcia and Dan Mihalopoulos contributed to this report.