October 7, 2008

Chicago Pupils Will Skip Class to Protest Funding

CHICAGO - Maurisha Gaiter didn't raise her two daughters to be honor roll students by letting them skip class.

But frustrated with overcrowded classrooms, outdated textbooks and a shortage of computers, Ms. Gaiter is sending 11-year-old Maurisha and 14-year-old Sakiijdra into some of the state's wealthiest suburbs to join hundreds and possibly thousands of other Chicago pupils in protesting 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."

State Sen. James Meeks and a group of 85 pastors have been drumming up support for a mass boycott to draw attention to funding disparities in public schools.

Thousands of pupils will take buses to the suburbs and attempt to register at the affluent New Trier High School and Sunset Ridge Elementary School. Pupils must pay tuition to attend schools outside their home district.

The effort runs counter to Chicago's annual attempt to boost first-day attendance as a way to get pupils in the habit of coming to school every day.

Like many states, Illinois uses property tax revenue to operate public schools. Property taxes account for about 70 percent of school funding.

Rural and inner city schools generally end up with less to spend per student than suburban schools in areas with higher property values.

Illinois State Board of Education spokesman Matt Vanover said the comparison is unfair because the Chicago district has hundreds of elementary and secondary schools. The Winnetka district has only one high school. High schoolstypically receive more funding than elementary schools, he added.

Mr. Meeks and reformers are lobbying Gov. Rod Blagojevich and legislative leaders to support a proposal that would pump $120 million into four clusters of schools on Chicago's West Side, South Side, south suburbs and downstate.

The governor says he wants to improve funding but opposes an increase in income tax.

Originally published by Associated Press.

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