CN Sep 11, 2014

Karen Lewis might run against Rahm Emanuel. In fact, some knowledgeable people are saying firmly that she will indeed run. She’s already committed $40,000 of her own money to the effort.

You won’t be shocked to hear that Lewis didn’t announce her candidacy on today’s show. That’s okay. We asked her to the table today to discuss the deeper policy questions that she’s been dealing with for the past four years in the hope that we might better understand why she’d like to be Mayor.

A major topic was the so-called student-based budgeting that CPS implemented over a year ago, which assigns funding to schools based on their student census. This policy has been blamed for undermining traditional neighborhood elementary and high schools by reducing their budgets as students are drawn into other schools.

“We were opposed to it from the beginning because every place that has tried this has moved away from it,” she says. She tells us that student-based budgeting “is incentivizing principals to hire brand new teachers.”

Lewis believes that, as each principal is forced to compete with every other principal, the ever-dwindling budgets force principals to dismiss more experienced teachers in favor of younger, cheaper ones.

Schools and principals, she says, used to be able to hire the best person for the job. “But now they’re looking for the cheapest person for the job.”

And that has removed a whole layer of natural mentoring within the school, she claims, as older, more experienced teachers are being forced out because they cost too much.

“I’m sure there are people from the neo-liberal side of the spectrum who are really happy about this,” she says, “because they believe that this should be a free-market experiment. But there has to be a plan put into place, not just a marketing plan. Principals are told they need to have marketing strategies now.”

Lewis says that so many of the problems at CPS have deep roots and have been ignored for decades.  Issues “that we don’t want to talk about, and we don’t want to have honest conversations about. We don’t want to have discussions about how segregated this city is.”

Magnets and selective enrollment schools, she says, were created in part to ease segregation, and many have been spectacularly successful. But they also creamed some of the most desirable students of all races and ethnicities, removing them from the local schools. “So the issue then becomes, what do we do for the rest of the children?”

And her conclusion is that CPS simply has to make its schools better. And that takes money. And there’s money to be found on LaSalle Street. She explains in some detail how a transaction tax and a commuter tax might work. She insists that the small amount – less than a dollar – that would be appended to each trade, the average of which, she claims, is several hundred thousands of dollars, would be virtually unnoticed by the investment banks and hedge funds making the trades, and would not be paid at all by the exchanges themselves. Nevertheless, her proposed tax could, she claims, raise a lot of money.

“We’re talking about generating ten to twelve billion dollars a year for the entire state. That’s a nice chunk of change.”

Also, some talk about the fight for the $15 minimum wage, the end of command-and-control management, and why CTU chose Pat Quinn over Bruce Rauner.

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About Ken

Ken's the host of Chicago Newsroom. A former news director, reporter and radio program host, he's also a past Vice President of the Chicago Headline Club.
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