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Blagojevich burned Sen. Meeks in 2006, setting the stage for this year’s event

Whether or not Rev. Sen. James Meeks will carry out his threat to take busloads of Chicago children to some of the city’s wealthiest suburbs on the opening day of school was unknown at Substance press time. But the plan to highlight the inequities in funding had focused attention in Chicago and across the state on the problem as the summer ended and people began making plans for the beginning of the school year.

One aspect of the situation that was not often mentioned during the media coverage of the challenges from Meeks and the responses by just about everyone else was how Meeks had previously demanded reform in educational funding and had been outsmarted by Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich more than two years ago.

In ealy 2006, Meeks began talking about the inequities in Illinois school funding and the failure of the governor and Illinois General Assembly to deal with them. At the time, Meeks said he was frustrated as both a legislator and a spiritual leader with the problems. Then, as now, Illinois ranked 49th out of the 50 state in state funding for education. The result is that Illinois school districts rely heavily on local property taxes to fund public schools, and those districts with high taxes and large tax revenues usually can afford to offer better schools than districts with less lucrative revenue bases.

Contrary to some opinions, Chicago is not at the bottom in per pupil funding in Illinois. Some of Chicago’s poorer neighbors have schools that rank among the worst funded in the USA. Many Illinois rural districts also have low funding. The problem is not simply one of black versus white, either.

Just about everyone praised Meeks for drawing attention to the problem, but that has been where the ways parted. In 2008, CPS officials and allies of Mayor Daley made sure that there was a loud chorus announcing that children should be in school on the first day. Left out of that discourse, of course, is the fact that tens of thousands of children who go to school every day in September and October have their school years disrupted annually by the policies of the Daley administration — via the work of Arne Duncan.

Last year, for example, the Board of Education faced protests in October when it fired teachers who had been teaching classes at Julian, Wells, Schurz and other general high schools. While the Duncan administration was adding bureaucrats (such as a “Chief Turnaround Officer” at more than $100,000 per year), theachers were cuts and children cheated. 



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