Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis has denounced Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s controversial hiring preference for Chicago Public School graduates as a “meaningless stunt” that will “foster religious and racial divisiveness” and invite costly legal challenges.
Instead of offering CPS high school graduates special treatment, Lewis suggested giving students the “educational resources they need to become successful firefighters” — by turning after-school programs at the police and fire academies “into an in-school Career and Technical Education program.”
“Not only would this provide students with a foundation in fire science and all aspects of firefighting, but it would also motivate students to stay in school,” Lewis wrote in a Chicago Sun-Times op-ed, noting that career training programs achieve higher graduation rates than the system as a whole.
Now, a videotaped interview of Lewis has surfaced in which the possible mayoral challenger appears to be arguing just the opposite.
On April 3, 2013, Lewis told TheRealNews.com that career training was being “pushed down” to the public schools at the expense of education.
“The real problem that people like Rahm Emanuel and his counterparts have is that public education is nowhere near as horrible as they make it out to be. Graduation rates are higher than they’ve ever been. Test scores are higher than they’ve ever been. But, that doesn’t fit the narrative. So they focus in on how terrible they are, because let’s face it, there were jobs that high school dropouts could go to and make a living that are no longer there because they’ve been completely outsourced,” Lewis said then.
“So the issue becomes the elite of this country do not want to train people to do jobs. They want to push that down to the public schools. Which is why we had vocational ed all through the 20th century, because the plant manufacturers did not want to have to train. They could rely on the public schools. So now we’re still pushing down the work to public schools as opposed to education. So still a quote-unquote training ground. The problem is the jobs aren’t there, so we have a very disconnected elite from the people who actually live in the city and work in the city.”
CTU spokeswoman Stephanie Gadlin could not be reached for comment on Lewis’ apparent change of heart.
Last week’s surprise opposition to the CPS hiring preference was widely viewed as an attempt by Lewis to expand her political base in preparation for a campaign for mayor.
Emanuel has similar political motives for standing behind the controversial hiring preference that has infuriated firefighters because it will be applied to Chicago’s first firefighters entrance exam in nearly a decade.
The mayor is trying to reverse his plummeting support among African-American voters who helped put him in office.
“Here is a way to bring inclusion into departments that have seen very little inclusion. It’s been that way for years. That’s why the federal court ordered the city to put 111 black firefighters on the force,” Ald. Howard Brookins (21st), chairman of the City Council’s Black Caucus, told the Chicago Sun-Times last week.
“This is a way to show that anybody can apply,” he said. “It also will reward families who stuck it out here in Chicago. [Emanuel] should be applauded and recognized for this being a good thing in our community.”
The Chicago Firefighters Union Local 2 has threatened to help bankroll a lawsuit challenging the hiring preference that has enraged the rank and file, many of whom are second- and third-generation firefighters and would like their own children to have the same chance.
Firefighters’ children would be hurt by the hiring preference because many of them attend parochial schools.
“Make it fair for all Chicago taxpayers. It should not matter if you attended a public or private school or if you were home-schooled. If a preference is given, it should be given to all Chicagoans,” Local 2 President Tom Ryan said last week.