THE LOOP — Charter schools held an education funding protest Thursday, and a student dance party broke out at the Thompson Center.
According to emcee Christopher Goins, principal of Butler College Prep, about 4,000 charter students were bused Downtown to the rally outside the State of Illinois' main governmental headquarters in Chicago.
Despite a persistent drizzle, the mood was festive and sometimes more suggestive of a spring school dance party. Driven first by Drake's ubiquitous "Hotline Bling," students danced to summer pop tunes on a sound system when they weren't chanting, "Fund our schools" and "Put kids first."
The rally was determinedly nonpartisan, with speakers calling on Gov. Bruce Rauner, House Speaker Michael Madigan and Senate President John Cullerton to reach a compromise on state education funding.
"We are demanding equity, and we are demanding justice for all our students," Goins said in rallying the crowd, made up mostly of charter students. "Our message is not one of divisiveness. It's not about one political party or another. It's about leadership."
Citing Rauner, Madigan and Cullerton by name, Goins said, "It's now time for our politicians to deliver."
"Our children are more important than Gov. Rauner and Speaker Madigan’s personal political agendas,” said Natalie Neris, a Chicago Public Schools parent and Chicago educator. "Education is the civil-rights issue of our time. We must do everything in our power to keep politics out of the classroom and ensure our children have access to a quality education."
The "Put Kids First" rally was organized in part by New Schools for Chicago, a group with close charter ties, including Chief Executive Officer Daniel Anello, formerly with the Chicago International Charter School, and board member David Vitale, the former head of the Chicago Board of Education, who also has close ties to charters.
Chicago Teachers Union spokesman Jackson Potter said he hoped the students weren't being used as a front for charter expansion, especially given the name of that organizing group.
"It's admirable that they're fighting for their schools," he said. "I hope they understand the need for a [charter] moratorium. Because that's been one of the drivers for the budget deficit in Chicago," while also contributing to school closures.
"I think that's a problem," Potter added. "They want more money for charters, but where's it gonna come from?" He said the union's position is that additional funding for all state schools has to come from substantial and progressive new forms of revenue, such as a graduated income tax.
For students, however, it was largely an excuse to shout protests and dance. Chicago rapper Tink rallied the crowd as well.
Goins cited many of the city's top charter schools as being part of the protest, including Chicago International, the UNO Network, Perspectives, Catalyst, Foundations, the Chicago Magnet Science Academy and his own Noble Network.
Chicago Public Schools Chief Executive Officer Forrest Claypool has made many of the same arguments about "equitable" funding for poor districts, including Chicago, and calling for a compromise on state education funding. Last week, he said charters and neighborhood schools could not open in the fall without state aid currently locked up in the budget impasse between the governor and the General Assembly.
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