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05/03/2010

A Prayer For Vouchers

  The event did not get nearly the amount of news coverage it deserved.

  Five Republican lawmakers were guests at the Reverend Senator James Meeks' Salem Baptist Church yesterday in a symbolic show of bi-partisan support for school vouchers.  There is a bill, passed by the state Senate and pending in the House to allow a voucher system for students in the worst Chicago public elementary schools.  Republican State Senators Dan Cronin, Matt Murphy and Dan Duffy along with State Representatives Ed Sullivan and Mike Connelly were given a warm welcome at Salem's cavernous House of Hope during the 11:30am service that was televised live from noon to 1pm.

  Conservative republicans have advocated for decades in support of voucher systems, in which the parents of public school children may transfer their kids to private or parochial schools and have their tuitions paid by the state in the same per-pupil amount the state would have distributed to the public schools. 

  Since the mid-20th century, most African-American civil rights leaders have opposed vouchers, suspecting they would be used by white parents opposed to integrated schools.  Powerful teacher unions, whose public school jobs would be threatened, joined the opposition arguing that permitting vouchers eventually would undermine the entire public education system in the United States.

  But Reverend Meeks, the democratic chairman of the Illinois Senate's Education Committee, stands as one of the most powerful black elected officials in the United States to buck the conventional wisdom.   With the Chicago Archdiocese and any number of private schools ready and willing to accept the 20-30,000 potentially voucher-eligible students, Meeks maintains that whatever changes are needed to ensure the kids' quality education should be enacted immediately.

  But Senate Bill 2494, supported by the fragile coalition anchored by African-American and republican state reps, is reportedly on shaky ground.  The cash and clout-heavy Chicago Teachers Union has a feverish, election-year lobbying effort underway and some African-American and GOP lawmakers are wavering. 

  And passing a voucher bill would be a political slap to the face of Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley who has spent the past 15 years telling anyone who will listen what a great job he has done since taking over the city's public schools in 1995.   Meeks has spent the entire 2010 legislative session telling anyone who will listen what a lousy job Daley has done and that the Chicago Public Schools should be run by professional educators and not politicians. 

  If House Speaker Michael Madigan calls it, SB2494 will come up for a vote later this week. 

  Passage of the bill would mean a revolutionary change in public education in the Chicago. 

  Reverend Meeks and his republican "amen corner" are hoping for just that. 

   

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