Chicago students fight for quality education

All people should have access to quality education. Until the mid 1800s, only wealthy white Americans in the United States had access to education. Even after education was made public through the funding of free public schools, African American communities were denied education through racist Jim Crow laws that severely underfunded the few schools that admitted Black children.

Racism and classism continue to deny working and oppressed communities access to education. According to a University of Chicago study, only 6 out of every 100 Black and Latino high school freshmen boys will graduate from a four-year college. Among attendees of Chicago Public Schools, statistics are more alarming. Ninety of every 100 Chicago Public School students that attend college will not graduate. Between African American and Latino boys, only 3 out of every 100 Chicago Public School students will graduate from college within 6 years. Nationally, 80.6 percent of white public high school students graduate, compared to 61.8 percent of Native Americans, 61.4 percent of Latinos, and 59.1 percent of African Americans. During the first week of the 2008 school year, Chicago Public School students and their families have taken to the streets to boycott underfunded schools and demand education.

Although the capitalist media blames workers and the poor for underperforming schools, the numbers tell a different story. In more well-off white areas, where funding is greater due to higher property tax income, children are given greater opportunity to learn from an early age. In the wealthier suburbs of Chicago, school districts receive more than double the amount of money per student than the Chicago Public Schools. This imbalanced funding scheme places a greater burden on working families to pay for the cost of education.

In Illinois, the state pays less than 30 percent of the cost of a child’s education, and that money comes predominantly from the state lottery. The rest of school funding comes from disparate local property taxes. The federal government funds only a small fraction of education costs. In places with more “property wealth,” children receive a better education. For example, the spending gap per student between the city of Chicago and Wilmette, a suburb drawing 96 percent of its school funding from property taxes, is approximately $13,000. In some areas of Illinois, education is funded at less than $5,000 per student per year. Meanwhile, the Chicago area easily produces enough wealth to educate every child—nearly 300 of the Fortune 500 companies have industrial centers in the region.

Workers and oppressed communities do not ignore the complicity of the both state and federal governments in the bankrupt education system. This is why a struggle has broken out as a response to the failure of the Illinois General Assembly to pass properly school funding legislation. A number of community groups, organized predominantly out of churches all over the city organized a boycott of the first week of school at Chicago Public Schools. The organizers transported thousands of children to the north-shore suburb of Wilmette to enroll them in the public high school there, a school that receives $23,000 per student in funding in comparison to $10,000 per CPS student. Other protest actions included a day of classes in the lobbies of buildings that house businesses and government offices throughout downtown. This boycott has been chiefly organized by State Senator Reverend James Meeks of Salem Baptist Church of Chicago, one of the largest congregations in Chicago.

Capitalism makes a privilege out of education

Under capitalism, education is a privilege of the wealthy. Workers, who make and run everything, are paid far below the value of their labor. The ruling class uses these meager wages as an excuse to under-educate workers. The bosses also use racism, sexism and homophobia to further divide us. In Chicago’s African American and Latino communities, access to educational resources is meager if available at all. Most schools in Chicago have a shortage of books, supplies, classrooms and teachers.

More privileged workers, i.e. white workers, have better funded schools because they are generally paid higher wages. Education is a right that should be sustained by the wealth of society, not by taxes based on a worker’s wage. Middle-class workers, like the ones in Chicago suburbs, are still forced to pay for their children’s education through property taxes.

School should be free, paid for by the wealth of society that is reinvested in training and caring for its people, instead of lining the pockets of a profit-hungry class of CEOs. The severe repression faced by the African American communities and Latino communities from the racist U.S. capitalist system further disguises the fact that every worker should be liberated from having to pay for school.

Under capitalism, education is used to provide workers who can labor to enrich the capitalists. Education will only be reformed through mass struggle.

The Chicago Public School boycott is an important struggle against institutionalized racism and classism. As with the broad civil rights struggle against school segregation, all workers must stand in solidarity with the students and their families as they struggle for the right to education.


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