CPS offering perks to boost first-day attendance

  • By Paul D. Bowker
  • Education reporter
  • August 28, 2008 @ 3:37 PM

Free admission to the city's science museum and pro basketball games are awaiting Chicago students who ignore an opening-week boycott led by state Sen. James Meek, D-Calumet City, and attend the first day of school Tuesday.

Rufus Williams, president of the Chicago Board of Education, and Chicago business leaders announced the opening-day bounty for children Wednesday morning at the Bank of America at the same time that members of the Black Star Project assembled a rally two blocks away in front of the downtown Chicago Public Schools headquarters, chanting, "Educate or die!"

In an attempt to draw national and state attention to Chicago's educational funding dilemma, Meeks and a group of more than 50 clergy are calling for a boycott of schools next week.

CPS spends about $9,600 per student, creating a financial gap between city and suburban schools, as well as many areas around the nation. For example, the annual per-student allocation is over $19,000 in Evanston and $17,000 in Washington D.C.

CPS officials oppose the boycott, and Williams spoke right to that point Tuesday.

"We expect each and every Chicago Public School student to be in school that day and every day," he says. "The first day is critically important. The first day is when we set the stage for what will happen over the school year."

This week, Meeks is in Denver attending the Democratic National Convention. The Rev. Ira Acree, pastor of Greater St. John Bible Church on the West Side, who is also at the convention, says Meeks is trying to meet with Ill. Governor Rod Blagojevich in Denver to talk about a compromise on funding.

"If there's a compromise, we'll be happy to call off the boycott," Acree says.

Williams says there will be rewards for the kids who do attend the first day of school. All students will receive free passes for themselves and two guests to the Museum of Science and Industry. Additionally, the Chicago Sky women's basketball team donated 50,000 tickets to CPS. Those tickets will be given to a portion of the children who attend the first day of school.

Also pushing for higher attendance rates were 200 Black Star organizers, parents and students who packed the sidewalk in front of CPS headquarters yesterday before the Board of Education's monthly meeting.

Chicago is one of more than 300 cities involved in Black Star's effort to get one million fathers walking their children to school on opening day.

"This is not a choice between getting more money and sacrificing our children. That is not a choice we will make," says Phillip Jackson, organizer of Chicago's Black Star group.

Paul Bowker, a Chicago-area journalist with 25 years of experience, covers Chicago Public Schools for the Daily News.