How will we pay for the education they deserve? Come to a special brown-bag lunch meeting on Friday, October 1, 2013, from 12 pm – 1 pm, at 70 E. Lake Street, 3rd Floor Conference Room, Chicago, for the launching of “Illinois Friends of Public Education,” of which United We Learn is a co-founder. Ralph Martire, Director of the Center of Tax & Budget Accountability, will give us his best strategic ideas for tax reform that will get us to excellent public school education for all Illinois children. Click here for a flyer about the event.

Earlier UWL events

September 16, 2010
Public launch of The Education They Deserve
at McCormick Tribune Center at Northwestern University
Watch the film
Dr. Max McGee’s presentation on public school funding (PPT)

Below is a film of the entire September 16, 2010 “The Education They Deserve” release event which comprises remarks by United We Learn leaders, the video itself, follow-up presentations by Dr. Max McGee and Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin, and audience comment.  We thank Marcel Pacatte and his team from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University, for filming this United We Learn gathering and making it available to the public.

May 14, 2009
“The Future of Illinois Education and What We Can Do About It!”
Related Presentations:
McCambridge presentation (PDF)
Meyer presentation (PPT)
Smith presentation (PPT)
McGee presentation (PDF)

UWL event

On Thursday, May 14, 2009, a standing-room-only crowd of more than 75 people — students and adults of all races, from the North Shore and Chicago, clergy and teachers, representatives of elected officials and reporters — gathered in the board room of New Trier High School’s Northfield campus to grapple with what to do to stop Illinois public schools from failing to educate its children.

Participants heard from (in order of appearance) Matt McCambridge, NTHS senior and founder of the new Illinois Council of Students, Dea Meyer of the Civic Committee of The Commercial Club, Julie Smith, a deputy chief of staff of Gov. Pat Quinn, and rounded of by Max McGee, former State Superintendent of Education & Pres. of the Illinois Math & Science Academy, who urged the crowed to be “mad as hell and not take it anymore” and added that “the time is now” to reform our system.

The speakers laid out statistics and anecdotes that gave an overall picture of the state of llinois’ public schools and large spending disparities by community. (United We Learn also disseminated a handout with a summary of the crisis at hand.) There is no doubt that the number of low-income students and test scores that fall below standards are correlated. However, presenters pointed out instances where low spending was trumped by dedicated teachers (where “college bound” became a mantra) and parents. In Chicago, charter schools have shown promise. But what all took away from the evening is that it takes all of us to work together prepare all students for a bright future. As moderator Lali Watt exhorted the group, this is about caring for all our children.

Sponsored by United We Learn and co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Glencoe, Glenview, Wilmette, and Winnekta-Northfield-Kenilworth.

United We Learn, a grassroots group of three dozen parents and community leaders, coalesced in August 2008 with the immediate aim of creating an atmosphere of welcome for the State Sen. Rev. Meeks-sponsored boycott and rally at New Trier High School last September 2nd. UWL supports the aims of Chicago Public School and Suburban Public School communities to secure a higher quality public school education – and brighter future – for all our children.

May 22, 2009
“Where Does United We Learn Go From Here?”

United We Learn hosted a follow-up gathering exactly one week later, same time, same place, to brainstorm “Where Does United We Learn Go From Here?”

A dynamic group of fifteen people from as far south as 95th Street in Chicago, north to Wilmette and Highland Park, and as far west as Belvedere, gathered in a working circle on May 21, 2009: a group diverse by race including several teachers and all passionate about making a difference for all of Illinois’ public school children.

The teachers shared some sobering information. A Wilmette resident and teacher spoke of being responsible for 190 students in Wilmette but 1,200 in Chicago. Anthony Anderson, who has worked for years in the correctional system, said that it costs $100,000 a year for the State to support an inmate. The group contrasted this to the tiny fraction of this amount spent on early childhood education, and this when multiple studies have apparently shown that 3rd grade is the most significant year in a person’s life.

Rev. Kirk Reed of Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette assisted the group in prioritizing its next step actions. In the spirit of solidarity, United We Learn aims to join with others at a grassroots level to make quality education a reality for all in Illinois.

Sept. 29, 2009
United We Learn: An Autumn of Action!

On Sept. 29, 2009, 7 members of UWL met with Rev. Sen. Meeks to discuss ways we could work together to bridge the class, race, and geography gap in public school education.

Rev. Sen. Meeks tells United We Learn members his admiration for their energy and commitment coming out of the North Shore is “through the roof” and invites UWL to set up three activities: (1) bus tour he would host of Fenger High School and the Robbins Public Library, illustrating the need for state funding intervention; (2) north suburban community forum on Chicago Urban League civil rights lawsuit against the state of Illinois for disparate impact based on race in the state’s over-reliance on the property tax for public school funding; and (3) north suburban community forum on legislative solutions, featuring Ralph Martire, tax policy expert heading the Center for Tax & Budget Accountability, and himself.

October 19, 2009
United We Learn Hits the Road!

On a sunny Monday, October 19, 2009, United We Learn members toured Fenger High School in Chicago, a predominantly African American and overwhelmingly low-income school in Chicago which recently had a student beaten to death by classmates, and the Robbins Public Library, scheduled to close because of the inadequacy of property tax revenues in this poor southern suburb.

Rev. Sen. James Meeks hosted the bus tour of north suburbanites. “Education funding” was our mantra for the day. At Fenger, the group was joined by Republican Senator Chris Lauzen, invited by Rev. Sen. Meeks. The group heard from Principal Dozier and her staff about the challenges of teaching extremely impoverished students, more than a third of whom enter at a 4th grade reading level. With discretionary funding used for bus passes, meals, and security and the like, the principal is unable to add more literacy teachers. Over 100 children are homeless — that is, completely on their own, not counting those homeless with family. It became clear to those of us from Evanston, Wilmette, Northbrook and other northern suburbs that even if a school spends the same amount of money per student, where it goes can be vastly different. This trajectory starts in early childhood. Principal Dozier said, “Equity is not necessarily fairness.”

October 22, 2009
Forum in Wilmette: Racism Undercutting Education?
The Chicago Urban League Lawsuit Over Public School Funding

0ver 50 north suburbanites ventured on a rainy October 22nd evening to learn more about the Chicago Urban League’s civil rights lawsuit against the state of Illinois over the reliance on the property tax for public school funding. The community forum took place at Trinity United Methodist Church in Wilmette. David Thigpen of the CUL and CUL’s attorney from Jenner & Block, Lisa Scruggs, outlined the data and described the legal arguments. Chicago has the 4th most racially segregated school system in the nation. And school systems throughout Illinois suffer from “inequitable instructional resources,” with nearly 4-to-1 spending differences between rich and poor districts. In a racially segregated state, this has a disparate discriminatory effect on children in African American and Latino districts. “The goal is to lift all boats,” said Scruggs. UWL’s forum was co-sponsored by Education Justice Committee of Congregation Hakafa, Glencoe, Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, League of Women Voters of Wilmette, Legislative Task Force of School District 65/202 PTA Council,and Rabbi Paul F. Cohen, D.Min., and Temple Jeremiah, Northfield.

December 1, 2009
School Funding Reform: Equity AND Excellence!
Community Forum with Rev. Sen. James Meeks & Ralph Martire

Related Presentation:
Martire Presentation (PPT)

A crowd of 85 people came to the Winnetka Community House on the evening on December 1, 2009 to hear Rev. Sen. James Meeks and Ralph Martire talk about the urgency of now when it comes to school funding form. The audience was diverse: suburbanite/Chicagoan (one pastor came all the way up north from E. 79th St.), Black & White, teachers & lay leaders, school board reps, political candidates, students, long-time advocates, and Superintendent Linda Yonke of New Trier High School, who seconded Rev. Meeks’ comments about a state commitment to holistically improving life for all families and “Whitney Young [High Schools] in every neighborhood.”

Click here for Ralph Martire’s PowerPoint presentation of data on unequal school outcomes by race and income of the school district, and Illinois’ “structural deficit” in which revenues can never outpace expenses under current tax policy.

Martire’s key points include:

  • It would take at least $2.1 billion of new state funds to ensure that children in “foundation level” schools (that is, schools in low tax base areas — attended by 77% of Illinois children!) can meet educational standards as set by the state. This amount is less than one-half of one percent of the state’s $633 billion budget — “not even measurable!,” according to Martire.
  • Property taxes have grown 15-18 times faster than incomes over the last 30 years.
  • The State of Illinois is not raising revenues consistent with the inflation rate or population growth. If the State were, we’d have $1.3-4 billion more in revenues.
  • Illinois doesn’t tax its residents or businesses all that much compared to the rest of the nation. We’re 41st among the states (inclusive of all taxes and fees).
  • Real wages for African Americans in Illinois have gone down drastically. We now have a wage gap of 126% (!!!) between Blacks and Whites. (Martire used this statistic to point out the cost of not educating our children; and in fact the number of Illinois prison inmates who are high school dropouts is 77%, according to Meeks.)
  • At-risk children (that is, children from challenged backgrounds) require double the spending of other children.

Rev. Sen. Meeks described Illinois as a “deadbeat state” — not even willing to meet its obligations to private companies that have provided services to residents but have yet to be paid (to the tune of $4 billion). He said even without spending another dime on education, the state is in a terrible hole.

Where do we go from here? They both said send letters — not e-mails — to House Speaker Mike Madigan to move a tax and education policy reform agenda forward! The group was also urged to continually raise this issue with north suburban elected officials and candidates.

UWL’s forum was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Wilmette, Interfaith Housing Center of the Northern Suburbs, Legislative Task Force of School District 65/202 PTA Council, Illinois Council of Students, Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, Education Justice Committee of Congregation Hakafa, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, New Beginnings North Shore Church-Evanston, St. Peter UCC Northbrook, Temple Jeremiah.