Thursday, December 11, 2008

Amazing Youth! Chicago Students Work on Public School Finance

Let's just say that the news regarding the Governor Rod Blagojevich is bizarre to say the least. The tale of corruption, that led to his arrest early Tuesday morning, was worthy of Huey Long, the late governor of Louisiana (well, at least Long made it to the U.S. Senate).

But all the news from Illinois politics isn't bad - and I'm not just talking about Barack Obama.
Illinois state senator Rev. James Meeks is a former college classmate of mine. He is the long time pastor of Salem Baptist Church on the South Side of Chicago. Recently, Rev. Meeks led an interesting protest in order to get change in Illinois public school funding. Called a CPS (Chicago Public School) Boycott, what Meeks actually did was call for parents of poorly funded schools to take their children to schools in affluent neighborhoods and to enroll them there on the first day of school this year (one can only imagine the stir that cause here in Dallas!). Although he had opposition from school officials, church and community leaders, on the first day of school some 1000 students and their parents participated in the protest.

Blagojevich was to have met with Meeks to discuss the matter of school funding and where the matter currently stands is unclear, but its pretty safe to assume, given the current state of affairs, new legislation in this regard is probably on hold...

But here is an unintended outcome of Meeks' protest efforts.

Several students from the South Side, who tried to enroll at the better funded New Trier High School ($17,000 per student vs. $11, 000 per student) have formed friendships and meet regularly to work on public school issues such as school reform!

The Chicago Tribune says about this new group of student activists, who call themselves the Illinois Council of Students, "They met during the rally that followed the Sept. 2 boycott led by state Sen. James Meeks (D-Chicago). 'That night, we were on Facebook talking and everything.'

"The students recognize theirs is an improbable friendship, an unexpected outcome of an adult-led political action. They say such an unlikely beginning makes them determined to guard their personal ties and to add their voices to talks of how money is divided among Illinois schools. Students in the Harold Washington Library Center Sunday debated what role to assign adult advisers."

So far the students have drafted a student bill of rights, declaring all kids be afforded "unfettered access to textbooks" or "the right to participate in clubs and sports." They plan to hold a student convention in January and meet with lawmakers in the spring.

Neither Meeks, nor New Trier Superintendent Linda Yonke are involved with the group.

"Students said they know school funding is a complex, long-standing problem," the Tribune reports, "Still, they said students should play a role in the solution. In the meantime, they hope to further the friendships unexpectedly sparked by the school boycott. 'We're still kids. We like to hang out and talk on the phone,' said Brooks College Prep junior Sabrina Walker."

Maybe Chi-Town can give Dallas Independent School District some lessons on a new resources for district reform.

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