CHICAGO (CBS) -- A day before the first set of school closings was set to begin, Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis had some harsh words about how the Chicago Public Schools are funded and managed, blaming much of the district's problems on racism.
WBBM Newsradio's Nancy Harty reports, at a luncheon on education reform, Lewis told members of the City Club that Chicago is the most segregated city in America.
"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 fact that rich white people think they know what's in the best interest of children of African-Americans and Latinos, no matter what the parents' income or education level?" she asked.
Lewis said minority neighborhoods are disproportionately disinvested by the city, and see more foreclosures and school closures.
"It's as if there were a concerted effort to make sure that these are not walkable, thriving, healthy communities," she said.
Lewis also blamed banks for driving people out of their homes through illegal foreclosures, resulting in underutilized schools and a smaller tax base.
"If the banks had not crashed our economy, the district would now have nearly $180 million more to invest in our classrooms," she said.
As for efforts to reform schools, Lewis said CPS should work with teachers to improve schools, and not appointed board members who've never stepped foot in a classroom.
"When did all these venture capitalists get so interested in the lives of minority students in the first place? There's something about these folks who love the kids, but hate their parents," Lewis said. "As long as the status quo of elites continues to impress upon our district, these horrible policies that may work very well in corporate environments – but are simply not good for children – the Chicago Teachers Union will be portrayed as oppositionists."
She said inequality has prevented people from embracing more revenue for schools through higher property taxes.
"If you look at the majority of the tax base for property taxes in Chicago, they're mostly white, who don't have a real interest in paying for the education of poor black and brown children," she said.
She offered suggestions for school funding instead of more cuts and layoffs - pointing instead to TIF funds, taxes on commuters and financial trades, and what she called a more equitable tax system to bring in billions of dollars for schools.
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