Chicago Teachers Union president calls for tax changes to fund schools

June 18, 2013 (CHICAGO)

Lewis is calling on city leaders to come up with different ways to fund education and keep Chicago's schools open.

Lewis spoke to a downtown audience at the City Club of Chicago Tuesday. Describing herself as no radical, she blamed banks and rich white people for inequity in public education. She said it is time to work together to come up with different ways to fund a cash-strapped Chicago public school system.

"This was a job I did not want, make no mistake about it," said Lewis. It's a job, however, that Karen Lewis seems very comfortable doing. As the president of the Chicago Teachers Union for a second term, the former chemistry teacher lived up to her outspoken reputation by giving a bold speech at the City Club of Chicago, one that focused on funding public education.

"Bold thinking says we will exhaust every avenue, identify every available opportunity to keep our public schools well-resourced, appropriately staffed, and open," said Lewis.

Lewis says bold leadership would direct TIF dollars back to the schools and put an end to corporate subsidies and loopholes, and Lewis called for fair taxation.

"If the tax rates for the top 5 percent wage earners in Chicago were equalized, at least another $160 million in revenue would be made available for children's education," said Lewis.

With school closings and layoffs, Lewis says revenue options cannot be talked about without addressing what she calls the elephant in the room: racism and poverty.

"When will we address the fact that rich white people think they know what's in the best interests of children of African Americans and Latinos?" said Lewis.

While she never mentioned Mayor Rahm Emanuel's name, Lewis continued her attack, asking why venture capitalists love minority children but hate their parents.

"There is something about these folks who love the kids, but hate their parents; there's something about these folks who use little black and brown children as stage props at one press conference while announcing they want to fire, lay off or lock up their parents at another press conference," said Lewis.

Despite her bold words, Lewis says the only way to fund a quality education for all students is collaboration.

She says the union wants to work with city hall, Springfield and the school board to solve the budget problems. She says that right now the process is all top down. She says she meets with CPS CEO Barbara Byrd Bennett on a regular basis and things are going well, which could be a start.

The Chicago Public Schools issued a statement on Tuesday afternoon on Karen Lewis' speech, which said: "CPS has cut Central Office spending by nearly $600 million since 2011, as well as $20 million in additional reductions just last week, to keep cuts away from the classroom. We will continue to do everything possible to protect classroom investments. However, our first and most important priority to put CPS on a path toward financial stability – before any discussion of new revenues – is to achieve meaningful pension reform."

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