A group of black legislators and community leaders gathered Sunday on the West Side to urge passage of state legislation that would provide more money to struggling schools in some of the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

State Rep. LaShawn Ford urged Gov. Bruce Rauner to sign a school funding bill that would distribute $350 million annually not just to schools in Chicago but across the state.

“It makes sure that the funding for education is not based on a person’s ZIP code or property taxes,” Ford said, speaking at a news conference held at the Academy for Scholastic Achievement, a nonprofit school at 4651 W. Madison that focuses on educating at-risk youth.

“If we do that, we will not have a pipeline to prison for black children, but we will meet their needs and they will have more opportunities to grow and compete in such a highly skilled society,” Ford said.

Rauner has threatened to make changes to the school-funding bill and send it back to the Legislature, calling the money it contains for city teacher pensions a “CPS bailout.”

A spokeswoman for Rauner on Sunday re-issued a statement from the governor that he’s unable to act until the bill gets to his desk.

“Until then, I am unable to change the legislation so that it’s fair and equitable for all schoolchildren in Illinois and the taxpayers who foot the bill,” Rauner said.

 

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Several speakers used the occasion to address issues surrounding the education of black youths.

Gladys Simpson, who serves as administrator at the Academy, said many of the young boys and men who arrive at her doorstep have no idea how much they don’t know.

“They come in tough, not needing anything. But all of us in this business know that they have many needs,” she said.

Bernard Clay, who runs a West Side organization that provides education and employment services, didn’t mince words.

“The problem that we truly have in education is that by the third grade a young man is 9 years old and he barely can put nine sentences together. But on the streets of Chicago, he knows how to unload and load a 9 mm. There’s something wrong with that,” Clay said.

“We need to invest in education ,and we need to get that bill that the governor is about to have on his desk get signed,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Danny Davis pointed out that black males are suspended at a high rate when compared with other students.

“Although black students are consistently disciplined at higher rates than their peers, there’s no evidence that such a discrepancy was due to a higher rate of school misbehavior by black boys,” he said.

Davis said he was more interested in solving problems than chatting about them.

“As my momma used to tell us a lot . . . ‘Problems are like babies, the more you nurse them, the more they grow.’ So we’re not looking for problems, we’re looking for solutions.”

To that end, Davis said he’s looking forward to the State of the African American Male conference Sept. 8 and 9 at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where he’ll host a slate of policy experts.

“We’ll have every kind of expert that we can get our hands on to be there and talk about not the problem but to talk about solutions.”