Public school teachers in the second-largest school district in the country are on strike. After rejecting an offer from the Los Angeles Unified School District on Friday, more than 30,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles are not reporting to work this morning.
The district and the union have been trying to negotiate a new contract for nearly two years. The teachers, counselors, nurses, and librarians of UTLA want increased salaries to keep pace with the increasing cost of living in Los Angeles and the relatively higher teacher salaries in surrounding communities. They’re also demanding more support staff in schools and smaller class sizes, factors they deem essential to “a healthy, nurturing educational environment.”
In an op-ed written last week, union president Alex Caputo-Pearl put much of the blame on Superintendent Austin Beutner for refusing to spend $2 billion in district reserve funds. Beutner, a newcomer to the world of education with a background in investment banking, media, and city government, says that the district will become insolvent if it gives in to the teachers’ demands.
Hovering over the debate are publicly funded, privately run charter schools. Over 120,000 LA students attend charters, and they bring over $600 million in public funding out of the public school system when they do. Charter schools are also staffed by nonunionized teachers and are widely seen as a threat to the political and bargaining power of teacher unions.
LA schools will remain open to the 480,000 public school students in the district, staffed by 400 recently-hired substitutes, 2,000 district staffers who normally work for the district outside of schools, and volunteers. Schools will also continue to serve meals, a crucial service, particularly to more than 80 percent of students who qualify for free or reduced-price meals.