They want to overhaul the way residents pay for education in Illinois. The leader of the legislative black caucus in Illinois is state senator and South Side minister James Meeks, who is organizing a student boycott of Chicago schools this fall to protest funding disparities between the highest and the lowest income districts.
Meeks and the rest of his caucus say it's time for a complete overhaul of the way we pay for education. And it's time to let Chicago students leave the city to enroll in any school district they want to, free of charge. And late Tuesday afternoon, they governor agreed to consider their demands in Springfield.
"We're tired of beating our heads against the walls, tired of watching our children suffer," said Meeks.
The black caucus in the state legislature is calling on Governor Blagojevich to convene a special session in Springfield next week to relieve the education crisis in Chicago-area minority communities by allowing students to enroll in suburban schools with bigger budgets, better facilities and higher standards without having to pay an out-of-district tuition.
"On a personal note, I believe that this will allow parents an opportunity to better afford their children quality education," said State Senator Kimberly Lightford, (D) Chicago.
"We're here today because kids from Chicago can't compete with kids from Barrington and New Trier," said State Rep. Marlow Colvin, (D) Chicago.
The black caucus also wants to eliminate the current system of education funding, which relies primarily on property taxes that fluctuate wildly between rich and poor communities and replace it with a new formula that equalizes funding from one district to another.
"It is time to redo the system, shut it down, build it up again. And make it fair and equitable all across the state, all across the city of Chicago," said State Rep. David Miller, (D) Calumet City.
The governor's top priority is to pass a multi-billion dollar infrastructure repair plan. But the head of the black caucus says that education is a lot more important.
"When is he going to focus on children? We're saying to the governor, come back to the center, come back to the main thing that affects our community, our children, and that's education," Meeks said.
Illinois, according to Meeks, is still 49th out of 50 states in terms of state support for education, like it was in 1992 when Blagojevich was elected to his first term.
The governor's invested billions of new dollars in the public schools. But he apparently agrees with the goals of the black caucus. So late Tuesday afternoon, he was calling for a special session on school funding for next Tuesday. But he wants lawmakers to deal with his revised capital plan Wednesday.
There was no reaction so far from House Speaker Michael Madigan, who's blocked most of the governor's initiatives up to now.