Review of the Los Angeles teachers’ strike and why it matters

From January 14th-22nd  2019, thousands of teachers of the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) walked off their jobs to protest the failure of LAUSD to meet their requests for their schools. It was their first strike in 30 years, and it affected hundreds of thousands of students as LAUSD is the second largest school district in the country and educates 9% of all students in California alone.

For years now, L.A. teachers have been calling for greater financial aid because they said they have been dealing with the following issues: overcrowded classes (sometimes 40 to 50 students in one classroom); inadequate salaries for teachers; and lack of vital resources such as nurses, librarians, and counselors.

For teachers, striking is the ultimate last resort when changes need to be instituted, as these strikes often initially have a negative effect on the students; however, strikes are sometimes the only way to attract necessary attention to the unacceptable problems facing districts and to attain long-term benefits.

The LAUSD gets 90% of its funding from the state government, but California ranks 41st out of 50 states in per student spending. This was primarily caused by Proposition 13, a tax reduction law passed in 1978 that essentially got rid of property taxes in California.

According to Mr. Sutton, Glenbard Education Association President and drivers ed. teacher at Glenbard West, “Amending this proposition would definitely help more funding to reach classrooms.” He then added that putting this in effect would “take careful planning by lawmakers, educators, and other stakeholders” in order to ensure funding is directed towards the students.

Charter schools can be another issue negatively impacting the already underfunded public schools in Los Angeles. Mr. Sutton pointed out that these schools “drain public funding from local schools” and that “despite being able to cherry-pick their students and remove anyone not meeting their standards, they often don’t perform as well as local public schools.” He also noted that they do not provide special education services and that some have even been involved in “financial scandals” that forced them to close mid-year, thus leaving students without a school and forcing the students–but not their funding–to be absorbed by the public school system, which adds to the lack of per student spending in California.”

There is some overlap between the L.A. school district and the Chicago Public School district (CPS) on the issues they both face. Upon geographical examination, L.A. and Chicago districts are both inner-city districts and thus both face some natural “inequity in funding” as Mr. Staron, President of the Glenbard Edcuation Association – West (GEA-West) and Glenbard West A.P. U.S. History teacher stated.

Mr. Staron also noted that “the things [the L.A. teachers] are looking for are not just more money, these teachers’ unions are asking directly for things that will impact student performance in the classroom.” These things include secondary services such as nurses and counselors that improve the physical and mental health of students.

L.A. teachers asked for the following: a 6.5% pay raise, a maximum class size of 27, and more overall funding.  They ended up coming to an agreement on the following terms: a 6% pay raise, a maximum class size of 38 students to be instated by fall of 2021, a $130 million increase in district funding, and at least one nurse in every school by fall of 2020, as well as full-time librarians at every middle and high school.

Mr. Chambers, Glenbard District 87 Assistant Superintendent for Human Resources, was contacted for a school district’s perspective on teacher strikes, but did not reply.