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More than 1,000 skip first day of school in Chicago

NORTHFIELD, Ill. — More than 1,000 Chicago public school students boycotted the first day of classes Tuesday in a protest over school funding and instead rode buses more than 30 miles north to try to enroll in a wealthy suburban district.

About 1,100 elementary students and 150 high school students from Chicago filled out enrollment applications Tuesday in the New Trier district in Northfield, New Trier Superintendent Linda Yonke said.

Boycott organizers acknowledged the move was largely symbolic: Students would have to pay tuition to attend a school outside their home district. But the boycott of the nation's third-largest school district was to continue, with organizers planning impromptu classrooms led by retired teachers in the lobbies of businesses.

State Sen. James Meeks is leading the boycott of the district, which has more than 400,000 students. He said he hopes the protest forces state officials to act.

"I do not believe that a child's education should be based on where they live," Meeks said. He said the circumstances made it more difficult for children to rise from poverty. "We undereducated these kids' parents, we undereducated their grandparents and now we're in the process of undereducating them," Meeks said.

In Illinois, property taxes account for about 70 percent of school funding, meaning rural and inner-city schools generally end up with less to spend on each student than suburban schools in areas with higher property values.

Chicago Public Schools spent $11,300 a student last year. New Trier High School spent $17,500 a student, near the top in the state.

Peggy Richmond, who accompanied her granddaughter Skyler Williams, 12, on the boycott, said she had to enroll Skyler in a private school because of the poor quality of the public schools. "I'm still angry," she said of having to pay $650 a month in tuition for the private school.

Chicago school officials did not immediately return a phone call Tuesday. They have said that they agree their schools are underfunded, but that keeping students out in protest was not the way to resolve the issue.

Meeks said he expects the boycott to run at least until Friday, and some parents said they're willing to keep their children out of school as long as it takes to get state action on the funding issue.