My mother could not bring herself to consent her daughter’s education to Chicago Public Schools. On my first day of school, I sported a nifty chocolate plaid pleated skirt with matching yellow blouse and brown button down sweater. This was all due mostly in part to the financial generosity of my grandmother. It was expected that this was the best thing for any child in Chicago’s inner city, to send them to a school where the teachers were good and the influence of the streets were diminished. It was rare to see a single mother on welfare send her child to a private school but I was the exception. While African American like me, most of my classmates came from two parent families in which mom and pop had jobs. They were bus drivers, postal carriers, retail salesmen, factory workers- they had skills. Food stamps or welfare checks were never spoke of in front my classmates and my father died in Vietnam. That is what we told the nuns when I was admitted. Uniforms were a good front for having few clothes. The nuns hardly let the girls speak to boys as to insure our virginity.
The word of God according to Catholics was taught at least one hour a day. Religion and morality could be found in everything from arithmetic to why I must share my tater tots with fat, clumsy Theresa who tripped and spilled her lunch tray on the floor. Yes the nuns engaged in corporal punishment by twisting our cheeks and paddling us with a two by four but we were in the minds of our parents, safe from the failings of Chicago Public School.
Private education is of course a luxury that comes with a price. A price that my mother could no longer afford after my grandmother had a heart attack which lead to her retirement from housekeeping.
In 1981, the feet of young Afrocity touched public school ground for the first time in her eleven year life. Now granted this was Oak Park, Illinois- a suburban school so it was not considered the true hell that I would later experience in Chicago Public School. Although young, I knew that my choice to a top notch education was locked. My mother was poor, hence the quality of my education would be proportionate to her income.
If there were educational vouchers then, mother and I did not know about them. I would have loved to be the recipient of one as my grades slid into an abyss once I was enrolled in the Chicago system. The teachers thought we were all lost causes except for myself and several others. Our reward for being “teacher’s pet” was a daily dose of ridicule from envious classmates. High School was somewhat better than junior high as I had tested well enough to attend a “school for the gifted”. Magnet schools provide a marginal escape for ghetto kids. Black faces peppered a sea of Caucasian, Asian and Middle Eastern grammar school superstars; often it was futile to compete for the instructors attention. If you were African American and ran tops at cross country meets then and only then were you likely to be a teacher’s favorite. Afrocity disappeared into the sea of faceless kids. CPS student # 1453768235 and so on and so on. She did not reemerge until graduate school.
I remember the entire experience with sadness and anger. First through fifth grade in parochial schools, sixth through 12th in public schools. Truthfully the former was the better of the two halves. Imagine my feelings when I notice this article in the Chicago Tribune:
Illinois House kills school voucher bill
Fervent lobbying by unions sinks idea to give students $3,700 to switch to private or parochial schools
May 5, 2010
SPRINGFIELD — A measure to let students in Chicago’s worst-performing and most-overcrowded elementary schools use taxpayer-funded vouchers to attend private schools was defeated in the Illinois House on Wednesday, giving teachers unions a major victory.
The landmark legislation would have made Chicago Public Schools the site of what experts said would be the nation’s largest voucher program. Up to 30,000 of the district’s 400,000 students could have left the weak schools they now attend, setting up competition for public schools.
The legislation got through the Senate in March after being championed by Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, and suburban Republicans. But by Wednesday, teachers unions had regrouped and its supporters found themselves pleading with opponents to overcome a furious lobbying effort to stop the bill.
“Think back to why you ran for office,” said sponsoring Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Chicago. “Was it for a pension? I doubt it. Was it to protect the leadership of a union? I doubt that. Actually in all cases, I believe each and every one of us here got involved to try and make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.”
Joyce could muster only 48 of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill that would have allowed students to get vouchers worth about $3,700 to switch to private or parochial schools beginning in fall 2011.
Joyce said the bill would have passed if it had not faced the union opposition. The bill got support from 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats, fewer votes than Joyce had expected from his fellow Democrats.
Fighting back tears during the lengthy debate, Rep. Suzanne Bassi, R-Palatine, called on fellow lawmakers to “search your souls” to support the measure because “we have failed these kids in the inner-city schools.”
“I’m pleading with you,” said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who represents an area with four public schools where students would have been eligible for vouchers. “I’m begging you. Help me help kids in my district.”
A bit of background here. Democrats like President Obama and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, are notoriously opposed to educational vouchers. Both men hail from Illinois. This decision to kill the Illinois voucher program is of no surprise to me. Like most liberal hypocrites, the Obama’s daughters attended not Chicago Public Schools but nice comfy private schools. On the issue, the Democrats never practice at home what they preach to their voters. Unions and the need to improve Chicago Public Schools should come second to the welfare of the children. If a child wants out now, then I feel that the child should be allowed assistance to attend whatever school its parents pleases. What if that voucher is a matter of life and death? What about Derrion Albert? Remember him? The young boy that was beaten to death in a public school last year. I wonder if his fate would have resulted in a happier and longer life had he not been in a public school ridden with gang violence and drugs?
Here are a few comments from opposing sides of voucher assistance at the Tribune blog:
“Under different economic circumstances, I might support school vouchers for private schools, but during these bleak economic times, public dollars should be spent on public education. Rather than providing school vouchers to a small number of CPS students, however deserving, city and state policymakers should be concerned with providing schools with the funds needed to prevent cutbacks in teaching staff.
Pry more money out of the Obama administration. Raise our taxes if you must. Otherwise prepare to have an even greater proportion of Chicago’s public schools classified as “low-performing.”"
— Woman in Chicago
As many as 22,000 or more children who go to the weakest Chicago Public Schools could be getting vouchers to go to private schools (“More kids, more choices,” Editorial, April 28). Why have the staff members at these schools not been fired and replaced with better teachers? Also what part does the parent play in the failure of the student? How will these children get to the new schools? What will happen to the children who stay at the poor-performing schools? Will those schools still be left open and have to be funded?
Yes the voucher program seems nice. But as a taxpayer, a lot of questions still need to be addressed.