Private funding down for LSC elections

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A milestone or a millstone? What will be the legacy of the fast-approaching LSC elections? Will they boost the concept of local control codified by the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act, or prompt the General Assembly to dismantle parent and community responsibility for school governance?

AT&T and LaSalle National Bank recently awarded the School Reform Board generous grants ($100,000 and $10,000 respectively) to support community-based organizations in recruiting LSC candidates. Unfortunately, that amount is a far cry from private funding provided for similar work in each of the previous three LSC elections. In 1989, over $750,000 was awarded by Chicago foundations and corporations (via Leadership for Quality Education) to over 30 community-based organizations to recruit and train candidates and get out the vote. In 1991 and 1993, under the leadership of Ken Rolling (then of the Woods Fund of Chicago) and Anne Hallett (then of the Wieboldt Foundation), the Special Fund for LSC Elections distributed $318,000 and $215,000 respectively. Obviously, in each subsequent election, Chicago’s community groups had to do more and more with less and less.

Most troubling, the drop in private funding coincided with a free-fall in voter turnout and number of candidates, as has been well documented by CATALYST and Professor Kenneth Wong of the University of Chicago.

Meanwhile, annual funding for reform by 11 of the most active Chicago foundations rose from $1.4 million in 1987 to $10.8 million in 1993. Why the apparent contradiction? Simply stated, Chicago’s foundations have used their funds in a passing-gear mode; once one area or issue is given a boost, the funders look elsewhere. Willing initially to help establish the LSCs, Chicago’s private funders since have left responsibility for this central element of school governance to the School Board and other public agencies. Foundations do not tend to support for long the general obligations of any entity, especially public ones—under the 1988 Chicago School Reform Act, LSCs and the LSC elections clearly are part of the school system’s general operations.

So, which will it be, milestone or millstone? While the answer will depend on much public and private initiative, recent history tells us that private dollars can tip the scale toward milestone. If the public, media and new central administration can make the case, Chicago’s foundations should revisit, posthaste, their independent decisions to shift funds away from LSC elections. But if the foundations do so, it should be seen as only another stop-gap solution to the support of LSC elections.

William S. McKersie, doctoral student

University of Chicago