James Meeks Suportts Publick Skools

Supporting more money for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) is not the same thing as being a supporter of public education.

This distinction is lost on both the media and our political class as witnessed by PR stunts like the one pulled by Illinois State Senator James Meeks yesterday.

Meeks wants to bus Chicago public school students up to New Trier High School in Winnetka on the first day of school to protest the disparity in funding levels.

While it may be that per pupil expenditures for the Chicago Public Schools (roughly $11,000 per student) exceed the national average, exceed the state average and exceed the averages of each of the collar counties in the metropolitan region, Meeks believes that because another district is spending more then, by definition, Chicago is not spending enough.

Senator Jimmy One Note has conveniently chosen not to address the districts that spend considerably less for considerably better results and the Chicago media are polite enough not to press him on this matter.

Meeks has also been spared having to explicate how only 6% of Chicago public school students will go on to earn a bachelor’s degree by the age of 25. That appalling result comes with a $4.6 billion annual price tag.

While Meeks is busing kids up to Winnetka to protest, perhaps a delegation of ordinary Illinois taxpayers should be bused down to Meeks’ district office to protest the squandering of our money.

In fact, there is no amount of money that can fundamentally change the performance of the Chicago Public Schools unless the money is tied to structural changes.

But Meeks and the CPS brass already know this. A 2006-2007 internal CPS report found that charter schools within the Chicago public school system outperformed their relative neighborhood schools on 84% of student performance measures. The problem is that only 4% of Chicago public school students have the opportunity to attend those charter schools.

So it is with an unintentional tinge of irony when Meeks observes, “I am happy for the children who have an opportunity to experience New Trier on a daily basis. Shouldn’t all children have the same opportunity?”

Shouldn’t they indeed, Senator. And yet, the paradox of speaking the language of opportunity which is intrinsically born out of competition while defending an ineffectual monopoly is lost on Meeks.

The opportunity he seeks, that we all seek, for Chicago public school students will only be realized through choice in education.

Watching Meeks conjures up the memory of Mikhail Gorbachev as the Soviet Union was nearing its final resting place.

As General Secretary of the Communist Party, Gorbachev was tethered to the dictates of that ideology even while as President of the Soviet Union he attempted to institute market reforms (glasnost, perestroika) on the margins because he understood that the Soviet political-economic system as constituted was unsustainable. History reconciled that incongruity for Gorbachev.

I anticipate a similar fate for Senator Meeks and the Chicago Public Schools.