Column: The squeakiest wheel

By Chuck Prochaska

A common adage informs us “the squeaky wheel gets the grease.” The more complaining you do, the more attention you get. Rev. Jesse Jackson often employs this proverb in his crusade for civil rights, sometimes appropriately, but most often in bad taste. Another classic example of Jackson’s demagoguery took place on Oct. 17 at Waubonsee Valley High School, and has continued to appear in the news ever since.

On that fall day, Jackson and members of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition invaded the school in Aurora in an effort to add some squeak to the broken wheel of inner-city education. This was a worthy cause no doubt, but was executed under false pretenses, fiscal misunderstandings and lies.

Jackson stood in front of cameras and announced that students at Waubonsee, a beautiful, high-tech and relatively new facility, received $15,000 a year from the state, while inner-city students, specifically at Harper High School in Englewood, received only $5,000.

Without any research, this claim would seem believable. The Chicago Sun-Times ran a story on Nov. 21 detailing the deplorable conditions at Harper. These included run-down music facilities and instruments, a computer lab with few functioning machines, a library with few updated books and a pool that serves as a storage facility for boxes and supplies. State funding, however, is not to blame for the discrepancies between Waubonsee and Harper.

According to the Interactive Illinois Report Card compiled by the Illinois State Board of Education, the truth is that Waubonsee students receive an average of $8,000 a year, while Harper students receive even more – $8,800. The difference is that wealthy suburban areas like Waubonsee’s district in Naperville and Aurora vote to raise property taxes in the name of funding for education. Unlike what Jackson would have you believe, not only is this OK, but it also doesn’t equate to inherent unfairness in state educational funding.

Instead of traipsing out to Aurora to pit wealthy whites against underprivileged blacks, he should have stayed in Chicago and had a conversation with Arnie Duncan, Chief of the Chicago Public Schools. According to a press release in response to Jackson’s visit issued by State Sen. Chris Lauzen, whose jurisdiction includes Waubonsee, Chicago spends 40 percent of its stage budget on vague “General Administration and Support,” while Waubonsee spends 30 percent on the same category.

Also, local property taxes in Waubonsee’s district account for 75 percent of the total education budget, whereas in Chicago they only account for half. Why should Chicago Public Schools get more state funding (no doubt from suburban and rural taxpayers) to waste on frivolous bureaucracy?

But sadly, Duncan is veiling himself in Jackson’s antics. He took this opportunity to proclaim, “[Jackson] more than anyone, gets that 50 years after Brown vs. Board of Education, our funding system here in Illinois is absolutely broken.” Jackson, by misdiagnosing the cause of Chicago Public School’s ailments, encourages even the people in charge to head down the path of the wrong solution.

Additionally, Jackson isn’t taking into account the fact that even if Harper underwent a major facelift and became the most well equipped school in the state, the attendance rates and lack of participation in the educational system by students and families still would make it a failing school. Harper suffers from 72 percent attendance rates that Jackson could only boost when he walked door to door to hunt down truant students at the beginning of the school year. Parents needs to accept their duty of motivating students to get an education if the Chicago Public School system is to ever seriously consider tending to their needs. The Rev. won’t always be there to do it for them.

While conditions at Harper and other Chicago Public Schools are deplorable, hyping these differences against privileged suburban schools and laying blame on the wrong actors only serves to deepen the divide between the two standards and fails to draw attention to a realistic solution. But then again, without any squeak, the Chicago Public School wheels won’t get any grease.

Chuck Prochaska is a junior in LAS. His column appears every Thursday. He can be reached at [email protected]