Pastors pushing boycott of schools

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • August 12, 2008 @ 6:55 AM

More than 50 pastors are calling for a week-long boycott of Chicago public schools when they open Sept. 2 to protest disparities between education funding in the city and suburbs.

The ministers assembled yesterday on the steps of Marshall High School, 3250 W. Adams St., to urge parishioners to keep their children out of school.

The group says an average of $10,000 is spent on a city student, while $17,000 is spent on a New Trier student in suburban Winnetka.

"Under this current school-funding system, whole districts of children are being left behind in neglect, failure and violence. It is ashamed that the children with the greatest needs receive the least amount of resources," the Rev. Marshall Hatch of the LEADERS Network says.

Chicago Board of Education President Rufus Williams says he understands the group's concerns, but does not support a boycott of schools.

He has reminded parents that children with more than nine days of absences would be required to attend summer school.

Rev. Ira Acree of Greater St. John Church says Marshall was selected for yesterday's rally because of the school's athletic success and academic failure.

The school won state championships in girls' and boys' basketball, but fewer than half its students graduate. According to the 2007 state report card, reading and science scores were less than half the city's average and just 6.9 percent of the school's seniors exceeded state standards in reading.

"It's so wrong for us to applaud them during March madness and sit back during June sadness," he says.

State Sen. James Meeks (D-15th District), who is also pastor of Salem Baptist Church, started the boycott movement on July 28 as a one-day protest.

It's now grown to a full week, and attracted dozens of other clergy.

After yesterday's rally, a group of about 20 pastors went on a door-to-door campaign through the West Side. Next week, Acree says, the pastors will hit the South Side.

"This is the time to seize the moment," Acree says.

"We are in this for the long haul," says the Rev. Albert Tyson of St. Stephen AME Church.

A group of ministers planned to be in Springfield on Tuesday for an education summit called by Gov. Rod Blagojevich.

"We hope that in this education summit Illinois' shameful system of school funding comes to an end," says the Rev. Joseph Kyles of Heirs of the Promise Church.

Chicago's school budget problems has been a year-long issue at the state capital.

Busloads of students, teachers and administrators were sent to Springfield in April and May to meet with legislators. In May, the school board's regular monthly meeting was postponed for the first time in decades so that Williams and CPS chief Arne Duncan could meet with legislators as the state budget was being finalized.

In four years, Duncan says, the district has not received any money for capital expenditures.

The district is using $100 million of its own reserves to cover a shortfall in the budget year that began July 1. The shortfall was caused mostly by rising salaries, pensions and health-care costs.

Acree says funding needs to be in place to recruit better teachers, although Duncan says improvements in teacher quality is already happening.

"The districts that pay the most for teachers get the best teachers," Acree says.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.

Discuss

JEANNE PYRZ, 08-12-2008

Do these Pastors understand that funding from the state is calculated on attendance? So if the students all attend a "rich" school for a day or two that money goes to the "rich" school, and is taken from their local schools.

This is why schools, like New Trier strongly oppose "Ditch days" as the massive absences mess up the attendance averages and therefore the amount of funding they receive form the state.

GEOFF DOUGHERTY, 08-13-2008

Jeanne, I think they're protesting a more basic issue -- that because New Trier has a more affluent tax base than Chicago, there will be a funding gap as long as property taxes are a significant source of education funding.