Sunday, January 20, 2019

Solidarity with LA teachers

30,000 striking Los Angeles teachers impacting on a half-million school students have been staging the first strike against the Los Angeles Unified District in 30 years, pressing their demands for higher pay, smaller class sizes and expanded support staff. The union staged a mass rally on Friday near City Hall, where tens of thousands of teachers, parents and students in red T-shirts filled a downtown park and surrounding streets. Last year saw a wave of teacher walkouts over salaries and school funding in several U.S. states including West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona. The Los Angeles work stoppage differs in that educators face a predominantly Democratic political establishment.

Members of the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) walked out of contract negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) that had dragged on for nearly two years. The specific battle is being fought over LAUSD’s refusal to tap into its record $1.86 billion reserve in order to reduce class sizes, hire more support staff, including counselors and nurses, improve infrastructure and more. LAUSD insists on keeping more than 25 percent of the budget as surplus instead of the required 1 percent. The LAUSD has almost $2 billion waiting in a reserve fund plus a commitment of $140 million from the state government in Sacramento, but won’t commit resources to put a full time librarian and nurse in every school. They don’t have enough guidance counselors and social workers to meet student’s needs, won’t fund arts and elective programs at all schools because they are “non-essential,” and refuse to increase availability to early childhood and adult education classes for district residents. Even simply reducing class sizes from kindergarten to grade 12 seems too much of a burden, even though some students are forced into classes of over 40 children.

As first-grade teacher Louise McLorn explained, “It’s absolutely not about teacher salaries. That is the last thing that we are looking at.” Union members turned down the modest pay raise they were offered, holding out instead for concessions centered on student welfare.

Corporate-minded elites across the U.S. are intent on viewing education as a business, and they see teachers as ungrateful moochers who are looking for easy paychecks funded by taxpayers.  Los Angeles School Superintendent Austin Beutner, is a former investment banker with no history working as an educator. Many suspect that Beutner’s has an agenda is to privatize the school district. Capitalism does seem everything and often everyone into a PRODUCT. LA teachers seek to do what’s best for their students, rather than minimizing costs and maximizing so-called efficiency. There exists third-world conditions in L.A. schools — schools situated in the world’s fifth largest economy and within the world’s richest nation. 

The teachers have included in their demands a cap on charter school growth. Union president Alex Caputo-Pearl explained, “We need to throw privatization schemes … into the trash-can.”

Charter schools in Los Angeles have become integral features of what’s wrong. There are 277 charter schools operating in L.A. Unified, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. Charters serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one-fifth of the students in the district. When charter schools pull funding from a public school, it damages the school’s ability to educate the students who remain because a lot of the school’s costs are “fixed” and can’t be reduced on a per-pupil basis. Schools that find they have to cover the same costs, with reduced revenues due to student attrition to charters, frequently resort to cutting non-teacher personnel such as counselors and librarians—exactly the additional staff LA teachers are saying their schools lack. Indeed, charter schools have become a much-favored project of the billionaire class, as wealthy individuals and their private foundations have poured billions into the schools and into the political campaigns of politicians who support them, especially in California where charter advocates have spent lavishly on statewide races and on electing their handpicked candidates to the Los Angeles school board.

“It’s a vicious cycle,” writes Miriam Pawel in the New York Times. “The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.”

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