In the wake of recent school closings and teacher layoffs, Chicago
Teachers Union President Karen Lewis took aim Tuesday at the two Rs
of her education reform effort racism and revenue.
Lewis, speaking to the City Club of Chicago, did not directly
criticize Mayor Rahm Emanuel. But she went after his kitchen cabinet
of educational advisers as wealthy elites from the venture capital
and corporate world and questioned what rich white people know about
whats in the best educational interests for minority children.
Members of the status quo, the people who are running the schools and
advising the mayor on how best to run our district, know what good
education looks like because they have secured it for their own
children in well-resourced public and private institutions, Lewis
When will there be an honest conversation about poverty and racism
and inequality that hinders the delivery of an education product in
our school system? When will we address the effect that rich white
people think they know whats in the best interest of children of
African Americans and Latinos, no matter what the parents income or
Moreover, Lewis asked, And when did all these venture capitalists
become so interested in the lives of minority students in the first
place? Theres something about these folks who love the kids but hate
their parents. Theres something about these folks who use little
black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while
announcing they want to fire, layoff or lock up their parents at
another press conference.
Several of Emanuels unofficial education advisers come from the world
of high finance, including wealthy money manager Bruce Rauner, who is
a candidate for the Republican nomination for governor. Rauner and
others have sought more charter schools and the GOP candidate has been
an outspoken critic of the teachers union.
Lewis also sought to tie critics of the union to the need for the
Chicago Public Schools to find new sources of revenue, though she
questioned whether the system truly faces a $1 billion deficit.
We clearly have a resource issue in this city for our schools and
statewide, she said. So people that have been making decisions about
education are the ones were going to start looking at the most since
they have all these great ideas.
Lewis called for enactment of progressive taxation that would tax
the wealthier at a greater rate compared to the states flat-rate
income tax. She also said bold leadership would end corporate tax
subsidies and loopholes. And she repeated earlier calls for a reform
of tax increment financing districts and enactment of a financial
Asked if the city schools also should boost property taxes, Lewis
said, Yes. But, she added, If you look at a majority of the tax
base for property taxes in Chicago, theyre mostly white, who dont
have a real interest in paying for the education of poor black and
brown children. We dont want to say that out loud.
Lewis maintained the citys public schools have made investments in
schools closer to downtown at the expense of other neighborhoods.
She said she feared the announced layoffs last week of 850 workers,
including about 500 teachers, as a result of public school closings
makes her fear its just the tip of the iceberg for a system facing
a $1 billion deficit.
Where will this impact be felt the most? she asked. In
predominantly African American communities.