Conventional analyses of the Los Angeles teachers strike present the public with a false dichotomy: is the teachers union right or is the school district right? The reality is that both sides are wrong, and the solution for parents and students is greater school choice for all children.
First, the Los Angeles school board has had a terrible history of fiscal mismanagement.
In 2017, for example, the then pro-union school board approved full health benefits for part-time workers, despite warnings from its own district officials that the district was headed toward bankruptcy because of huge unsupportable benefit and pension obligations.
The district must meet state-mandated budget reserve requirements, but it can only do so, according to the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), if it makes substantial spending reductions between 2019-20 and 2020-21. However, even if these reductions are made, the County says that it would not eliminate the district’s structural deficit—the district is spending more than it is taking in.
Yet, the demands of the United Teachers of Los Angeles bear no relation to this fiscal reality.
The school district is offering a 6 percent raise in salaries. However, the union wants retroactive 6.5 percent pay raises going back to 2016, more staff in every school, and reductions in class size.
The union’s demands would cost upwards of $1 billion beyond what the district is proposing. To pay for its demands, the union wants the district to tap into its reserve, which is already at dwindling levels, so surrendering to the union’s demands would push the district into insolvency.
LACOE superintendent Debra Duardo recently warned: “Especially at a district as large as LAUSD, if they were to go insolvent, then they would be in really big trouble. They would actually run out of cash they need to pay their teachers and all their salaries.”
Further, Duardo says that if the district agrees to UTLA’s demands and that results in the devastation of the district’s reserves, then the County would impose a fiscal advisor who “could override decisions that the [school board] is making.”
Beyond the financial debate, UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has recently called for a cap on the growth of charter schools in Los Angeles, which has more charter schools than any other school system in the nation.
Plus, California’s new governor, Gavin Newsom, who was strongly supported by the California Teachers Association, has called for more regulation of charter schools.
Yet, parents have voted with their feet in favor charter schools.
Charter school enrollment in Los Angeles has increased, while enrollment in regular public schools has declined.
While UTLA and its allies claim that charter schools inadequately serve the needs of low-income and minority students, the reality is that 88 percent of charter-school students in Los Angeles are Latino or African American and 82 percent of L.A. charter students are from low-income families.
Further, the data demonstrates that charters are improving the achievement of those students.
According to a 2017 study by the school-research-and-rating organization GreatSchools, there were 156 public schools in California ‘that are providing strong results for African-American students and Hispanic students.’
While only a little more than one in 10 public schools statewide is a charter school, among these 156 high-performing schools, nearly one out of three was a charter school.
Plus, a significant number of the high-performing charter schools were located in Los Angeles.
The bottom line is that the Los Angeles teachers strike is a perfect storm of bad policies, bad management, bad demands, and, too often, bad actors.
The solution is more, not fewer, charter schools. Parents and their children who are trapped in Los Angeles’ mismanaged, special-interest-dominated regular public schools have a right to choose a different type of schooling option.