This is the first week of classes for the Chicago Public Schools. Rev. James Meeks, Illinois State Senator and Pastor of the Salem Baptist Church on the south side of Chicago has asked students from the south and west sides of Chicago to boycott classes to draw attention to inadequate state funding for education in our communities. While some of us may disagree with the method, most of us would agree that the quality of government funded education should not depend upon where our children live. While money is not entirely the answer, there is something wrong when children in impoverished Chicago communities attend schools that do not have the resources to provide a rich diverse curriculum with well equipped science labs, libraries and books.
Part of the problem, as I see it, is that funding for education in Illinois is dependent upon revenue from real estate taxes. In East Garfield Park, where one out of every three lots is vacant and real estate values remain low, the funding is not adequate to provide quality education for our children. Many of the schools are failing and closing.
Ironically, residents from one zip code community on the west side of Chicago spend 28 million dollars a year on the state lottery just for the hope of winning a windfall that will set them free from the bondage of poverty. It makes sense to me that lottery revenue that tends to tax the poor should stay in our communities to fund education. Instead, unlike real estate taxes, lottery income is spread throughout the state.
As Christians, we will continue to do all we can to supplement the education of the children in our community with academic support and caring networks of relationships. We are also called to take a stand for justice and give voice to the oppressed. In the words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, “We are not to simply bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice, but we are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself.”