On Monday morning, tens of thousands of teachers from Los Angeles leave their classrooms and go on strike, leaving the country's largest, second-largest school district, behind a growing national movement for better school funding and higher teachers' fees.
The strike comes after months of fruitless contract negotiations between the teachers' union and the Los Angeles Unified School District. The trade union demands an increase of 6.5 percent and the district gives more to improve the quality of education for students. Officials from both the state and the district agree that they have to invest more – only at the level that the unions demand.
The school system extended a last-minute deal last Friday, but the organizers rejected it and said they are fighting for the future of the education system – with implications reaching beyond the boundaries of the district.
"Get ready, because we're going to go on Monday," said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles, at a press conference at the end of Friday.
Rural, stagnant teachers' salaries, crumbling infrastructure and deep cuts in education have contributed to a wave of educational activism. From Arizona to West Virginia, Kentucky to Oklahoma, teachers received broad support and won important victories that boosted the salaries and benefits of last year. And now the movement has a powerful ally that joins its ranks.
EU leaders in Los Angeles expect this week about 31,000 teachers, consultants, nurses and librarians will follow the corner. Just like the series of strokes teachers who have preceded them are fighting for an increase. But they have bigger grievances: they say the classes are so big that there are not enough desks to go around; that the proliferation of charter schools leads to a tried and tested student organization and a system that treats education as a business rather than a right for all students; and that staff levels are so low that some schools do not have any nurses or librarians.
Addressing all these issues to the teachers' satisfaction requires money that district administrators say they do not have.
So Monday, LA schools will see their first strike in 30 years. During the last 20,000 teachers walked out of their class for nine days. This time, trade union leaders want to make an important contribution to a broader battle for education, setting the tone for 2019 with the first run of the year.
Why the teachers' union and the school district can not agree on a deal
School district officials and trade union leaders negotiate a new contract since the spring of 2017, with little to no progress from the beginning. Each of the demands of the union costs money – money that they think is the school system and the district says it could never pay – but what really matters is the direction of education in the district.
Both parties have data to back up, but as the Howard Blume of the Los Angeles Times points out, the negotiations have turned into an intense, personal dispute, in which "over-zeal, passion and spider often have doubted about honesty, moderation and neutrality. & # 39;
In August, 98 percent of trade unionists voted to allow a large-scale strike, and it has been in the planning stage for months. (The school board responded by authorizing $ 3 million to hire replacement teachers who could cover the classrooms in case full-time teachers left.)
This has demanded the teacher's trade union:
- Smaller classes
- Reductions in standardized tests
- A 6.5 percent salary increase for teachers, with retroactive effect for the last school year, to keep up with the rising cost of living in California. Moreover, they hope to see a bonus of 2 percent.
- Increased support staff – ie more nurses, librarians and academic advisers in schools that are woefully underutilized and in some cases have no positions at all.
The district has on several occasions tried to limit the scale of the planned strike. Last week, officials even went so far as to ask a federal court to leave teachers who work with students with special needs to leave the classroom. The court instead threw the district's request for an order, leaving the way for the strike to move forward.
Gavin Newsom, the new Democratic governor of California, has proposed a budget of $ 209 billion on Thursday to increase school spending. The next day district officials in LA gave a final offer and proposed:
- Renting 1,200 extra educators
- Give teachers an increase of 6 percent, spread over the first two years of a three-year contract
- Provide a full-time nurse for all primary schools
It also contained provisions that managers had offered earlier in the week:
- Reducing the maximum class sizes in classes four to six – from 36 students in a classroom to 35 and high schools across the board with a decrease from 42 to about 39. Schools with the greatest need see a decrease of four students.
- The hiring of at least one librarian for secondary schools, while the academic advisers of secondary schools are strengthened.
The leaders of the Union rejected the offer on Friday and called it hopelessly inadequate & # 39; They demand an increase of 6.5 percent including retroactive effect salary increases for the previous year, and higher levels of support staff to meet the needs of the district.
The teachers' union believes that the district can afford it. An independent report showed that the district has $ 1.8 billion in reserves, an amount that has grown significantly in the last five years, compared with $ 500 million in 2014.
But superintendent Austin Beutner says that many of those funds have already been marked, and Based on future forecasts, the district's finances will be insolvent in a matter of years, thanks to burgeoning retirement benefits and retirement benefits. If they meet all the requirements of the union, Beutner says, it would cost up to $ 3 billion and immerse the district.
"If they want a strike, they will strike," Beutner said at a press conference on Friday. "We are doing everything we can to prevent this."
The training of almost half a million students is in the balance
Los Angeles has one of the largest school districts in the US, the second only for New York City. More than half a million students take part in the Los Angeles Unified School District, which covers more than 700 square miles of metropolitan area, from South LA to Bel-Air to the San Fernando Valley.
A large proportion of the student population is poor and inadequate – about 80 percent of children are eligible for a free lunch or lunch at a lower price. And according to the LA Times, nearly a quarter of them learn English.
In addition to teaching, LA schools are a source of much-needed childcare for parents, consistent meals for students and resources for their health and special needs. This means that a large-scale strike, such as what is planned for LA, will probably have an affective effect on the people against whom the protest ultimately seeks to benefit: students.
Schools will be open, no matter what happens. Drivers, volunteers and a legion of newly recruited replacement teachers are expected to fill the gap while trade unionists are on the picket lines, but that should leave staffing of approximately 8 percent of the cover for a normal day.
It is impossible to say how many students will appear at school on Monday to learn from those skeleton rods. Union organizers ask parents to show solidarity in their strike – a Facebook group with more than 100,000 members, & Parents who support teachers & # 39 ;, Invites others to appear Monday, the LA Times notes – but for most, it will probably be a struggle between juggling and childcare.
Nevertheless, administrators say that the strike is no excuse – students who do not show up are considered unspoken absent.
School districts across the country take into account years of cutbacks in education funding and stagnating teacher salaries
The run-up to LA & # 39; s strikes has been months in the making, building on the success of high-profile national trade union strikes.
What unified many of these strikes and walk-outs was that they took place in conservative states: in Arizona, West Virginia, Kentucky, and Oklahoma, teachers ran out of work, fighting back against depressed wages that do not keep up with inflation, yes, but also against dozens of years of right-wing politics that had lowered the levels of spending on education to the core.
As Vox & # 39; s Alvin Chang explains: "In recent decades, state legislators have systematically divested public education", so that many non-wealthy children have received second-rate education:
The cause of these interruptions in education started decades ago, when state legislators made tax cuts to the rich and companies in times of economic prosperity. The hope was that this would stimulate economic growth – but that growth never came. When the economy turned south, states had to generate more income.
But conservative lawmakers refused to raise taxes; they just cut the expenses. And because education often occupies most of the government budgets, schools have been hit particularly hard.
Foam, rinse, repeat.
Just like the rest, LA & # 39; s teacher training comes down to financing. According to an estimate, California ranks 41st in government spending per student, adjusted for the cost of living. But what is unique is that both the district and trade unions agree that more money needs to be spent to promote the education of children. They are not fighting for tight austerity measures or tax cuts for the rich.
LA & # 39; s trade union leaders want their strike to make a statement about the future of the public school system and the deterioration of charter schools. Because they know: major changes in a single region where 700,000 children of school age live, could set the tone for the progressive educational struggle across the country.