Sep 8, 2008
On the first two days of school, thousands of Chicago students boycotted class and many of them traveled to a high school in a wealthy suburb to dramatize their demand for equality of school funding. The boycott was led by Rev. James Meeks, the pastor of the very large Salem Baptist church located in a black neighborhood in Chicago’s South Side.
Students went to visit the high school serving the very wealthy suburb of Winnetka. This suburb, where some of the richest capitalists live, spends $7,000 more per student than does the city of Chicago. Not surprisingly, the high school the kids visited is beautiful, with the best science labs, art centers, and sports equipment, along with well prepared and paid teachers – in short, the way all schools should be!
Compare this to Chicago, where lack of funds means overcrowded class rooms, crumbling facilities, shortages of textbooks and equipment, and a lack of counselors, social workers and school nurses. There often isn’t physical education, art or music. Not surprisingly, only 55% of Chicago students graduate from high school. Many of those who do graduate are not equipped to get jobs.
The school boycott was tied to a legal suit by the Chicago Urban League against the state of Illinois, demanding drastic changes in the way the state funds education, which depends primarily on local property taxes.
The system of local school boards financed basically from local property taxes goes back over a hundred and fifty years, when the country was made up mostly of small farmers with less variation – in the North – in income. But in our society today, with giant corporations owned by a handful of billionaires, and tens of millions of workers and the poor, the inequality in society and the resulting inequality in the schools is extreme. The average family income in Winnetka is $229,582, four times as high as in Chicago. Today, the richest school district in the state has 1.8 million dollars of assessed property for each student in its schools, while the poorest district has only $7,000.
We can’t even talk about real public school education until society spends the same amount on every pupil, as much in inner cities and rural counties as in wealthy suburbs like Winnetka – with extra spending to make up for impoverished backgrounds.