Rev. Al Sharpton pushes for school boycott

August 10, 2008 8:53:41 PM PDT
The call for Chicago Public School students to boycott the first day of class picked up support Sunday from one of nation's most vocal civil rights activists.The Rev. Al Sharpton is joining the movement to shine a light on what he calls a disparity in state funding for public schools. In Chicago, Sharpton used his voice and influence to convince students to skip the first day of classes, September 2.

The reverend's visit came ahead of a reopening of the debate on school funding in a special legislative session scheduled to get under way in Springfield Tuesday.

Sharpton spoke to the congregation of a West Side church Sunday. He was as fiery as ever, saying in no uncertain terms that when it comes to getting more funding for schools, the ends justify the means.

While in Chicago, Sharpton also said it's time for the governor and the legislature to act, f they want to prevent such drastic measures as a boycott.

"You can organize against the boycott, but you can't organize about the unfairness. Well maybe, if there wasn't unfairness, they wouldn't talk about a boycott," said Sharpton, head of the National Action Network.

It was state senator and Rev. James Meeks who first spoke of a boycott in July. He and other ministers want to keep Chicago Public Schools students out of the classroom on the first day of school and take them to Winnetka's New Trier High School, where high property taxes assure students more than three times the funding that is afforded city schools in low-income neighborhoods.

Reverend Cy Fields, pastor of the New Landmark Missionary Baptist Church where Sharpton spoke Sunday, is one of those supporting the boycott.

"We've made a pledge to register at least 100 students to participate in the boycott that first day," Fields said.

Currently, Illinois ranks 49th out of 50 states when it comes to state funding of education, relying mostly on property taxes to do the job. However, while Chicago Public Schools officials agree that the system is broken, they disagree with the ministers' proposed boycott.

"If the message is to fix school funding, we're all for it. If the method is to keeps kids out of school, we are completely against it," CPS President Rufus Williams said Thursday.

Still, Sharpton said Sunday that the time for action is now, on the streets and in the courts.

"We need to litigate how they are taking unequal dollars and how the results of the unfairness of those dollars really violates Brown vs. The Board of Education," Sharpton said.

To that end, the Illinois chapter of Sharpton's National Action Network is planning a lawsuit that will challenge the constitutionality of the state's funding for education. There has been no word on when that lawsuit will come.

As for the state, Governor Blagojevich has called the legislature into session Tuesday to discuss an education bill that he says will provide equal funding. However, it is noteworthy that although there have been various efforts over the last several years to pass such a bill, not one has been successful.


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