The LA Teacher’s Strike
Since the settlement of the LA Teacher’s Strike, I have been wondering “what did it all accomplish?”
The agreed on wage increase of 6% over three years was what was offered by the District well before the strike began. The reductions in class sizes by one in year 1 of the contract, by one more in year 2, and by two more in year 3 if there is funding for it are small but important gains. More nurses and school librarians are needed, and the agreements to do so are a net positive. But the District and the union certainly did not need a strike to resolve these issues.
School children lost six days of classroom education. Teachers lost six days of pay. The District lost six days of school funding. Parents’ lives were turned upside down as they scrambled to take care of their children at home.
Importantly, the public got a great education about the conditions in the public schools – class sizes that are far too large for learning, closed school libraries and inadequate access to nurses when predictable accidents and illnesses happen at school.
The union in my opinion picked the wrong target – a nearly broke local School District, as opposed to California’s state government, which sets and establishes school funding. County and state officials still need to review and certify that LAUSD has adequate financing to implement the new provisions of the union contract. It’s possible that the supportive citizens of Los Angeles will support an increase (2/3rds vote required) in the parcel tax dedicated to lower class sizes, better education outcomes and better-paid teachers. It is possible that the citizens of California would support a split roll property tax with the same targets. These options need to be discussed, debated and decided by broad coalitions of educators and respected civic leaders with an eye to the 2020 November ballot.
Meanwhile, the “settlement” has roiled and fractured the potential for a strong coalition of public educators by attacking (with a proposed enrollment cap) the local public charter schools, their teachers, their parents and their students, which had no place at the negotiating table in the LA Teacher’s strike. Charter schools in California are non-profit public schools that have contracts with the District; they are not the “for profit privatizers” portrayed by the union. Some of these caricatures do exist in some states like Michigan; they simply do not exist in California. Many California charters are based in poor neighborhoods where high performing schools with excellent academic results are desperately needed, and there are quite a number of high performing charters with LAUSD contracts. They receive lower per pupil funding than the traditional public schools. To get or renew its charter, each charter must offer improving student academic outcomes. If they do not achieve those results or if they are poorly managed (financially or academically), their charters can be and are revoked. LA is a model in managing the performance of charters. LA also has developed some strong, high performing, public magnet schools, which are unfortunately quite difficult to enroll in.
Nearly 20% of LA’s children and their parents have voted with their feet and chosen to enroll in local public charters. Some of LA’s public charters get much better academic results for their kids, have lower class sizes and better paid teachers. Others perform about the same, and some perform worse. Read the list of great schools to get a sense of the high and low performers in LA and take a look at the school performance map to get a sense of high and low performing schools in LA and surrounding communities.
Charters have some built in advantages as compared to traditional schools; they are not subject to many of the excessively detailed requirements of the state education code and of the union contracts. As a result they can more readily remove poor performing administrators and teachers and hire stronger teachers and principals. They do not shoulder the same significant accumulated “legacy costs” of pensions and health care costs for retired teachers as the District schools, and they should have much lower administrative costs.
There is no sound educational basis for the local teacher’s union attack on LA’s public charter schools. Some charters are unionized, using the same teacher’s unions as the district’s own schools, but with different contracts. Their school facilities are not paid by the District, unless they are co-located with a District school. Some of the finest special education classes available are being offered in some of LA’s charters.
There is so much that needs to be done to improve funding and academic performance in LA’s public schools. In my opinion the strike was a misguided opportunity, but the final outcomes will eventually be determined by a now better-educated and thoroughly aroused voting public. Can their interest be sustained, can the high support for public education be translated into meaningful long term improvements?
As voters and citizens, we must demand better funding and excellent academic results from public schools, and we must design our funding (and union contracts) to achieve improved results. And we need to elect representatives and dynamic school officials dedicated and committed to achieve that mission. While we need to improve school funding and teacher salaries, and we equally need to improve school performance; they are related but not however causally joined at the hip.
A great public education leading to college enrollment and graduation is the best means of assuring our nation’s economic success and removing some of the severe and growing economic inequities that plague our country. Enrollment in four-year colleges is improving but still far too elusive for students in LA’s public schools where only one in four graduating students enroll in four-year colleges as compared to 40% nationally. “For LAUSD’s Class of 2010, 23 percent graduated college within six years, a common measure to determine college completion. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 59 percent of students nationwide entering college in 2009 graduated within six years.”
California was once one of the nation’s leaders in funding and performance for its public schools; we are not anymore. Since the passage of Prop 13 in the late 70’s, California’s public school spending fell towards the bottom. Under the Brown Administration and with the surge in California’s economy, California has been steadily increasing school funding since the nadir of the Great Recession. We have been moving up the ranks of per student funding so we are now about mid-ranked, without adjusting for cost of living, but we are very far from the top, and we have high costs of housing our educators and our working families. Governor Newsom’s education budget continues the Brown legacy and has some interesting new ideas to help school districts with their pension fund obligations for retirees.
Our challenges in educating children in Los Angeles are particularly acute as we have large percentages of low-income students and large percentages of highly motivated but English language learning immigrants from diverse backgrounds. The recent changes in the state’s education funding formulas recognize our innate challenges with now higher state funding formulas that better help finance LAUSD.
We still have lots of work to do to develop transparent measures of school performance readily accessible to parents and the voting public. We need to develop good data and much better systems so parents can make the best possible school choices for their children.
Prepared by: Lucien Wulsin