EDITOR’S NOTE: Minutes after the opinion piece was submitted to Asbarez, the UTLA announced that a tentative deal had been reached to return teachers to classrooms on Wednesday. Asbarez thought that the points raised in the article merit publication.
BY NORA KAYSERIAN AND MANUK AVEDIKIAN
The United Teachers of Los Angeles, the union representing teachers, counselors, and other support staff of Los Angeles Unified School District just concluded their first week of striking and will continue on Tuesday until negotiations are complete. The LAUSD strike, which is the first walkout since 1989, is perceived to be a part of a US trend of increased union power particularly in the education sector.
Despite the demands pertaining to the high cost of living vs. low salaries educators receive in Los Angeles, UTLA’s fight is about much more than a living wage. It’s about saving our public education system, which is the cornerstone of democracy. It is a fight against the trend of privatization in public education that LAUSD and many school districts around the US have been practicing for over two decades.
In a district where 80% of students qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, it is clear that the current public education system represents a major class disparity in society. It’s no wonder the school board wants to further increase already large class sizes during the past two years of negotiations. The powers pushing for privatization don’t seem to care about the greater societal good because the non-English speaking, lower tax bracket and unionized employees are the beneficiaries of this strike’s demands, while those in power have their children in either private, charter or affluent public school districts where they don’t need to be concerned.
You might be wondering how the growth of charter schools could be problematic. How does it lead to privatization? Aren’t they still public? While charter schools are tuition-free, they use public funds but without the transparency and accountability that is required of traditional public schools. What has happened when there is no transparency and accountability? Fraud. See Barbara Byrd-Bennett, Helen Hawkins and Charles Steven Cox cases to name a few.
Despite big money going to pro-charter LAUSD board elections and the $500 million a year lost from public schools to charters, charter schools have major issues of being under-enrolled, having inadequate facilities and lacking oversight. This has led to a declining enrollment in LAUSD, increased class sizes, lower GPAs, and increased emphasis on standardized tests. Thus taking away time from essential learning, and less overall funds for student services in public schools.
The UTLA strike is addressing these issues and demanding for increased regulation of charter growth because of the issues of mismanagement. The demands are part of a larger ideological shift toward making sure public schools serve the public good. UTLA is asking for smaller class sizes (which currently exceed 40 students), more counselors, librarians, and one full time nurse per school to serve the student population.
As complicated and multi-faceted as the educational system and its constituents may be, public policy needs to attempt to serve all citizens and not further polarize symbolic and tangible class differences among them. Elected officials need to remember to work for all and prioritize its future generations.
As taxpayers, we also need to be more vigilant and critical of who we elect to our school board. Due to the resignation of Ref Rodriguez, who plead guilty to charges of political money laundering, there will be a special election this March to fill a vacant seat on LAUSD’s Board.
We expect those elections won’t blow over our heads this time around.