Ill. senator wants change for Chicago Public Schools

February 11, 2010 4:27:05 PM PST
There is a call to take control of the Chicago Public Schools away from Mayor Daley. The Reverend James Meeks, who is also a state senator, says many schools are still in trouble and he believes it's time for some changes.A political storm is gathering around the issue of public education in Chicago. It involves the mayor and a powerful Illinois state senator.

"There is no nobody that's going to tell me that they believe education in Chicago is working the way it's supposed to work," said Rev. Sen. James Meeks, (D) Chicago.

The Reverend Meeks, who is the Illinois Senate's education committee chairman, doesn't mind being the Democratic Party's loose cannon on the education issue. And, he is firing his biggest shots at Mayor Richard M. Daley, who took control of the Chicago Public Schools in 1995.

"Public schools is not his expertise. It's just not. You could be passionate about something but it doesn't mean you're good at it," Meeks said.

Meeks says the poorest and worst performing schools in black and Latino neighborhoods have not improved. And, in many cases, student test scores, graduation rates and violence are worse than ever.

"If you want to go back to prior to 1995, then go back. I will never go back. This school system has changed and is getting better. I don't care what anybody says," said Mayor Daley.

The mayor, who has overseen a public school building boom during his 20 years in office, pushed back.

"Can we improve? Yes, we can improve. But to say nothing has been done is really shortchanging the whole school system," said Mayor Daley.

Meeks filed a bill in Springfield Wednesday to remove the power of local school councils (LSC), to hire principals and write school budgets, drawing the ire of many LSC members around the state.

"To limit the authority of LSC's with the principal selection and the budget decisions is a horrible idea," said Jitu Brown, LSC member.

To limit the authority with the principal selection and the budget decisions is a horrible idea. But Chairman Meeks wants school boards to hire principals and be held accountable for them.

"So if that the board controlled the process, then the board would be responsible for the process," said Meeks.

Another bill filed by Meeks would allow the parents of students at the most underperforming schools to apply for vouchers to attend private schools.

Mayor Daley, who despite being Meek's target, said some of the senator's ideas were worth looking into.

"All of these ideas are ideas out there. We have to judge and work with each one of them and find out how well we can better educate our children," Mayor Daley said.

Meeks says he can pull together a coalition of black, Latino and Republican state senators to pass bills for vouchers, LSC changes, and perhaps the mayor's control of the Chicago Public Schools. Getting the bills through the Illinois House would be an entirely different story.