PICKET: (AUDIO) Chi. teachers union president blamed scrutiny of Chi. schools on race and class of students

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Back in July Kyle Olson of the Education Action Group (EAG) posted a report about ,when negotiations between the city Chicago and the Chicago Teachers Union were still happening, Chicago Teachers Union president Karen Lewis and community organizer Jitu Brown who spoke on a public internet conference call with Mike Klonsky, a retired professor.

At 1:48 in the audio above, Lewis blames the “lower-class” and race of the students as the reason why the public school profession is “ridiculed and basically discarded.”

She says, “I have seen the profession of teaching go from one in which it was considered very prestigious to one that is constantly ridiculed and basically discarded and we feel, by and large, that it’s due to the fact that we serve predominantly working- and quite frankly, lower-class students, and students of color.”

Two months after making that statement, Chicago public teachers are now on strike. In the midst of a $700 million deficit within its own school district, 56 percent graduation rate, and 79 percent of 8th graders who are not proficient in reading, Chicago must deal with public school teachers who make $76,000 per year, on average, before benefits.

Back in 2010, the the Chicago teachers union successfully lobbied to keep a school voucher program out of the city. A bipartisan push in the Illinois state legislature to help inner city Chicago school children get into a school voucher system was stopped in its tracks by the unions. The Chicago Tribune reported: (bolding is mine)

The legislation got through the Senate in March after being championed by Sen. James Meeks, D-Chicago, and suburban Republicans. But by Wednesday, teachers unions had regrouped and its supporters found themselves pleading with opponents to overcome a furious lobbying effort to stop the bill.

“Think back to why you ran for office,” said sponsoring Rep. Kevin Joyce, D-Chicago. “Was it for a pension? I doubt it. Was it to protect the leadership of a union? I doubt that. Actually in all cases, I believe each and every one of us here got involved to try and make a difference in the lives of our fellow man.”

Joyce could muster only 48 of the 60 votes needed to pass a bill that would have allowed students to get vouchers worth about $3,700 to switch to private or parochial schools beginning in fall 2011.

Joyce said the bill would have passed if it had not faced the union opposition. The bill got support from 26 Republicans and 22 Democrats, fewer votes than Joyce had expected from his fellow Democrats.

Fighting back tears during the lengthy debate, Rep. Suzanne Bassi, R-Palatine, called on fellow lawmakers to “search your souls” to support the measure because “we have failed these kids in the inner-city schools.”

“I’m pleading with you,” said Rep. Ken Dunkin, D-Chicago, who represents an area with four public schools where students would have been eligible for vouchers. “I’m begging you. Help me help kids in my district.”

 State lawmakers, like Democrat Art Turner, who fought against the voucher program blamed school problems on the “home life” of Chicago students and claimed the city school system needed “improvements.” Additionally, Turner said that the voucher program could cost union jobs among public school teachers.  

Rep. Art Turner, D-Chicago, led the opposition with an impassioned speech calling for the measure’s defeat. He railed against the current educational system, saying improvements need to be made in the home life of children and in the city school system, which oversees 10 of the worst schools in his own legislative district.

“Chicago Board (of Education), get busy,” Turner said. “Do what you’re supposed to do.” Teachers unions argued the legislature should be voting for an income tax increase that would help all students, not just a few, and that vouchers could cost public school teaching jobs. 

And Karen Lewis continues to have conspiracy theories over why the public school profession is “ridiculed and basically discarded.”

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About the Author
Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket

Kerry Picket, a former Opinion Blogger/Editor of The Watercooler, was associate producer for the Media Research Center, a content producer for Robin Quivers of "The Howard Stern Show" on Sirius satellite radio and a production assistant and copy writer at MTV.

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