‘L.A.’s Teachers Union Can’t Do Simple Math’
As the federal government shutdown heads toward its third week, parents in Los Angeles are also bracing for a possible shutdown of the public school system. On January 10, the 33,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles plan to go on strike. The Los Angeles Unified School District is trying to stanch red ink and avert a state takeover, while UTLA seeks to arrest a decade-long decline in membership. But like the standoff between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding a border wall, this brewing schoolyard brawl is as much about politics as it is about money.
The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling last summer barred governments from forcing nonunion employees to subsidize collective bargaining and union political activities. Teachers unions across the country now face increased pressure to come up with big gains at the bargaining table to retain members. They must also find new sources of revenue to compensate for lost “agency fees,” previously assessed from employees who opt not to join the union.
In 2017, school reformers and charter advocates captured a majority on the Los Angeles Unified School District board. Last May, the board hired Austin Beutner, a former investment banker and Los Angeles Times publisher, to turn around the financially and academically struggling district. Only 22% of fourth-graders scored proficient in math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in 2017, which is less than the 30% average among large city school districts. Despite additional state resources for low-income schools, a learning chasm persists between whites and minorities. Only 14% of Latinos were rated proficient, compared with 61% of whites.
Charter schools, which enroll about 154,000 students districtwide, provide low-income parents an escape valve. But tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists and many families are moving to nearby districts with better public schools. The result: District-run schools have lost 245,000 students over the past 15 years and 55,000 since 2013.