The Reverend State Sen. James Meeks has challenged the State of Illinois educational funding system. He wants a change and has worked diligently during his six-year tenure in the Senate to do something about it.
Whereas most agree with his premise and are willing to listen to his ideas, his methods are controversial. I support Reverend Meeks wholeheartedly. He is moving with the spirit of protest to dramatize the situation. His traditional legislative means have not worked. His coalition politics style of organizing has not worked. His preaching has not even worked to push the envelope. His premise is basic, pure, correct and hard to argue: How do you bring about change if you don't change?
Some years ago, Meeks even threatened to be a candidate for Governor of the State of Illinois to run on the platform of new funding for public education. He was a real challenge to Rod Blagojevich. He dropped out of the race when the Governor promised millions to public education. So, today, we find ourselves in the same place, with no more money in the educational coffers.
Here are the sad facts of the situation: A student at Winnetka's New Trier High school receives $17,400 per student from the State of Illinois. A student in a Chicago Public High School receives $10,000 per student. This is an educational funding gap of $7,400. Illinois has the largest gap in the state of the union. The state of Illinois ranks 49th in the union for educational funding per capita. We are behind Mississippi and Georgia. Illinois is the seventh wealthiest state in the United States. Yet, Chicago Public Schools have more than a fifty percent dropout rate. Black boys in the Chicago Public Schools have a dropout rate of 63 percent.
The Meeks Bill
Meeks suggests that Illinois requires legislative reform. His bill is simple. It represents change that will produce equality and access. It is a quality argument. The Meeks Bill says that any student in the State of Illinois should be able to attend any public school in Illinois, no matter the home address. Presently, the Illinois educational system is funded on real estate taxes. Property taxes determine the quality of schools. The Meeks Bill would abolish the school districts' authority to impose a property tax. The bill would go into effect December 31, 2010. The Meeks Bill sets one tax, for one school system.
It is not a wild idea; It is pretty much common sense. If we are going to have One America, it is going to start with one school system. This is where all the gaps begin. A disparity in the educational system brings about a wealth gap, which has produced two Americas, one educated and one not educated. It translates and correlates to young Black and brown men being incarcerated at higher rates than they are being educated in universities.
It is an insult and curse in our country.
So, the Meeks method of bringing drama to this issue is three-fold.
His novel idea includes these steps:
1. He suggests that parents hold their children out of school on the first day, to show protest of the funding of poor education.
2. The second step is for children in the lower-funded schools to register at the higher-funded schools, by the bus load. Meeks intends for 10,000 students from the South Side of Chicago to transport to the North Shore to register for school. Yes, South Side students in Winnetka!
3. The third step is to have students from Chicago have teach-ins in downtown offices and government buildings. Retired schoolteachers and principals would teach the classes. So, the educational venue -- and environment -- would change from classrooms to business offices. A new conversation would begin.
The Meeks methods are sure to bring national attention to an educational sore. Perhaps he may even get the presidential candidates to address the issue of educational funding in America. Perhaps, he will get his bill passed. His tactics of protest will definitely bring about public awareness and land on the stage of public debate. He has the pulpit and has organized ministers to deliver.
The timing is critical to the political conventions and the presidential debates. If there is to be change in America, educational funding is a good place to begin.
This is the type of change that would truly bring about One America.