Today, kids living in poverty are at risk of losing such opportunities. The Los Angeles teachers union declared that it was going on strike Monday, disrupting the learning of our students and forcing families and communities to worry about the safety of their children. Eighty percent of Los Angeles Unified kids live in poverty, and at least 16,000 are homeless. For many, school is the only dependable thing in their lives, and the strike has taken that away.
As a former union organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles, I understand the importance of fighting for what’s right. I led student walkouts as a high school student, volunteered with the farm workers union and was an organizer for UTLA during the last strike 30 years ago. But under today’s circumstances, a strike isn’t what we need to improve our schools. The strike is hurting the families and kids of the Los Angeles Unified School District and won’t solve the problems facing the system.
Already, Los Angeles Unified is spending all its limited resources on our students and schools. The district’s latest offer to teachers includes a 6 percent salary increase for educators, back pay for 2017 and a commitment to spend $130 million to add nearly 1,200 teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians. This offer mirrors recommendations from the neutral, independent fact-finder appointed by the state, which issued a report just before the end of the year.
It’s a good deal, and I urge the union to make a counteroffer, at the very least. Union leaders say they want a bigger raise and smaller class sizes. Now it’s time for them to come back to the table and clarify what that means and what offer would be acceptable. It’s time to talk in specifics, get the deal done and open our schools.
Union leaders know that Los Angeles schools are facing a major budget crisis. They know the district is spending more than it’s taking in and is facing a fiscal cliff. This perilous financial situation was confirmed by the state superintendent of public instruction, the county superintendent of education, two independent commissions established by prior school superintendents and the state-appointed fact-finder. If nothing changes, our schools are headed for insolvency in the next two to three years. At that point, a fiscal adviser will be appointed by the state and we’ll no longer have local control over our schools — which means budgets will be slashed and class sizes will rise. We’ve made too much progress over the past decade to let that happen to our kids.
Instead of fighting here in Los Angeles, we should be working together to advocate more funding from our leaders in Sacramento. Ninety percent of Los Angeles Unified’s budget comes from the state. In two generations, California has gone from leading the country in education funding to being near the bottom, and we need to tell our legislators that this is unacceptable.
Most U.S. school districts, particularly those in urban areas, are facing similar fiscal issues — or will be soon. As with many things, California is leading the way in this trend, so what happens here will come to other neighborhoods next. This needs to be dealt with everywhere; our kids deserve it.
I believe in fighting for what’s right, and that means more funding for our schools. I also believe that education leaders — from the superintendent to the union president — should be sitting at the table together to work out a deal to reopen our schools.
Future mayors of Los Angeles will come from the classrooms of our city’s school district. They, and others, are counting on us to come up with solutions for their education. Let’s provide them with the future they need.