City, suburban students join forces on school funding reform

November 25, 2008

Student leaders from Chicago and the suburbs are forging ties to fight for a cause: education funding reform.

The members of the Illinois Council of Students, a group of Chicago and suburban public school students, believe that student voices are an important missing ingredient in the school funding debate. They believe that student activism can help break through the stalemate that has stalled funding reform.

The group’s founding members came together after state Sen. Rev. James Meeks’ (D-Chicago) first-day boycott of CPS, when about 1,000 city students traveled by bus to wealthy suburban schools and to a school funding rally at nearby Harms Woods. Four students from New Trier High School—Matt McCambridge, Amanda Cohen, David Walchak and Ada Sochanska—attended the rally and met Brandon Saunders of Morgan Park High, Sabrina Walker of Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory and Edwillis Wright of south suburban Rich South High School.

Student leaders from Chicago and the suburbs are forging ties to fight for a cause: education funding reform.

The members of the Illinois Council of Students, a group of Chicago and suburban public school students, believe that student voices are an important missing ingredient in the school funding debate. They believe that student activism can help break through the stalemate that has stalled funding reform.

The group’s founding members came together after state Sen. Rev. James Meeks’ (D-Chicago) first-day boycott of CPS, when about 1,000 city students traveled by bus to wealthy suburban schools and to a school funding rally at nearby Harms Woods. Four students from New Trier High School—Matt McCambridge, Amanda Cohen, David Walchak and Ada Sochanska—attended the rally and met Brandon Saunders of Morgan Park High, Sabrina Walker of Gwendolyn Brooks College Preparatory and Edwillis Wright of south suburban Rich South High School.

The seven students began talking and realized how their schooling experiences differed and the importance of adequate school funding. McCambridge, a senior, says the dialogue led to the council’s creation.

“It’s a different experience to read about the discrepancy [in education] between the two places [ Chicago and the suburbs], and hearing it. When you hear it, it becomes much more powerful,” he says. “We decided we didn’t want our conversation to end that day, so we started Illinois Council of Students.”

The seven founding members, who serve as the executive board of the council, are working to recruit other students from elsewhere in the state to represent their schools on the council. An initial meeting of the larger group is planned for this month.

The students wrote a 10-point Student Bill of Rights, including rights to resources such as textbooks, supplies and an adequate number of teachers. They also set three goals: To forge relationships among students throughout Illinois; to provide or publicize services such tutoring; and to lobby the state for funding reform.

The group has already begun taking steps toward its third goal, meeting informally with state representatives Renee Kosel (R-Mokena) and Lou Lang (D-Skokie). They also hope to work with Meeks once lobbying starts in earnest.

Enlisting students to lobby for adequate education funding should be particularly effective because “having a representative tell a student to their face, ‘No, you don’t deserve this kind of school,’ is going to be very hard for them to do,” McCambridge said.

Promoting resources, such as test prep programs, is also important, says Saunders, a senior at Morgan Park.

“When [students] find out, it’s too late,” he says. “You usually hear them say, ‘Man, if I had known about that before, things would have been different.’ ”

For more information or to contact the Illinois Council of Students, go to their website here: http://illinoiscouncilofstudents.org/Illinois_Council_of_Students/