Rethinking Meeks

I was too tough on Illinois State Senator James Meeks.

Last week, I offered both a commentary and rigorous interview of Rev. Meeks on the WLS airwaves as to Meeks’ controversial declaration that he will bus thousands of Chicago Public School (CPS) students up to New Trier High School on Chicago’s ritzy North Shore for the first day of school next month to protest state education funding inequities.

While I stand by the substance of what I said, I violated a cardinal rule of politics in making the perfect the enemy of the good.

On The Don & Roma Morning Show last week, in addition to discussing his PR stunt, Meeks also explained that he would be introducing legislation to effectively create statewide school choice whereby students could take state dollars and attend any public school they wish.

Meeks is on the right street but he’s at the wrong address. While I have no philosophical aversion to his approach, major surgery on Illinois education is only politically salable at present to the sucking chest wound that is CPS.

Rather than creating regional conflicts that further push off the promise of choice in education, Meeks should use his political capital both in Springfield and among minority families in Chicago to apply pressure on a system whose results are indefensible by any measure.

While Meeks corrected identified the multitude of problems with CPS, Meeks failed to embrace the inescapable conclusion that followed his premise when he suggested that Illinois taxpayers pour $2 billion more into a system he concedes has proven to be incapable of educating our young people.

CPS should not be given more money; it should be subjected to a RICO prosecution.

His internal contradictions notwithstanding, Meeks is doing more than any other legislator, Republican or Democrat, to spotlight the ongoing criminal enterprise that is the Chicago Public School system, robbing young people of their futures, and demand justice.

If Meeks can shed his misdirected allegiance to the CPS bureaucracy, he has the opportunity to be for Chicago what Polly Williams was for Milwaukee nearly two decades ago–a black, inner city legislator with the courage to take on the teachers unions on behalf of low-income families whose children deserve so much more. In other words, Meeks has a chance to be a hero.