September 2, 2008

Students Will Skip 1st Day of School to Protest

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO (AP) - Maurisha Gaiter didn't raise her two daughters to be honor roll students by letting them skip class.But on Tuesday, when the Chicago Public School year starts, that's what they plan to do, with their mother's encouragement.Upset by her daughters' overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and shortage of computers, Gaiter is sending 11-year-old Maurisha and 14-year-old Sakiijdra north to some of the state's wealthiest suburbs to join hundreds or possibly thousands of other Chicago students in protesting what they say is an unequal system for funding schools."I don't want to send my kids to any second-class school anymore," she said. "If I have to keep my kids out for a whole month, I'm willing to do that."Illinois state Sen. James Meeks and a group of 85 pastors, mostly from the West and South sides of Chicago, have been drumming up support for a mass boycott to draw attention to funding disparities in Illinois public schools.They have more than 100 church buses ready to take thousands of students to Winnetka, where they'll attempt to symbolically register at the affluent New Trier High School and Sunset Ridge Elementary School. Students must pay tuition to attend schools outside their home district.Administrators at New Trier High School said they're preparing for up to 2,000 students from Chicago on Tuesday.The effort runs counter to Chicago school officials' annual attempts to boost first-day attendance as a way to get students in the habit of coming to school every day."Any adult that tells their child not to go to school sends that child down a path that is self-destructive," said Chicago schools CEO Arne Duncan. "Yes, we are desperately underfunded. Yes, we need to challenge that status quo. But let me be clear. Adults should fight that battle. Children should be in school."In Illinois, as in many other states, most school funding comes from property taxes. Here, property taxes account for about 70 percent of school funding, meaning rural and inner city schools generally end up with less to spend per student than suburban schools in areas with higher property values.Chicago Public Schools, the country's third-largest school system with more than 400,000 students, spent $11,300 per student last year. In Winnetka, New Trier High School spent $17,500 per student, near tops in the state.

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