“HYPERBOLE, PASSION and spin have often trumped fairness, moderation and neutrality.” That’s how a Los Angeles Times reporter characterized the dispute between the Los Angeles Unified School District and the teachers union in the days leading up to this week’s crippling strike. Nowhere is that description more apt than with the battle cry the union is sounding against public charter schools. The union seeks to pin the problems of the school system on charters — which offer valuable education choices, are popular with parents and generally benefit minority and poor children.
Teachers, librarians, counselors and others represented by United Teachers Los Angeles in the 600,000-student system, the second-largest in the country, walked off the job Monday after months of failed negotiations. How long the strike, the first in the city since a nine-day walkout in 1989, will last is unclear; we hope, for the sake of the students who are the ones most hurt by it, an agreement will be reached quickly. The two sides are close on salary but not on issues such as class size; additional counselors, nurses and other support staff; and more teacher control over school spending and testing. The sides fundamentally disagree about what the district can afford.
The union, casting the impasse as “a struggle over the future of public education,” has taken direct aim at the charters, largely non-union, which enroll about 1 in 5 of all L.A. public school students. The union wants a cap on their growth, along with stricter regulation. Trotted out is the now-familiar and phony trope about charters “draining” or “siphoning” money from public schools. Charters are public schools. In California, they are operated by nonprofit organizations, and the money they receive is public per-pupil funding that follows students. It is not the district’s money, nor the union’s money; it is the students’ money. In Los Angeles, 88 percent of these students are Latino and black, and 82 percent are low-income. A 2015 Stanford University study found that students at charters in Southern California are learning more than their counterparts in traditional public schools. No question that charters must be held accountable, as all schools should be. But whose interest would be served by capping their growth and inhibiting their operations? Not the children’s.
Teachers in Los Angeles, like those in West Virginia and other states that saw a wave of protests last year, are right to focus attention on the need for public support of public education. California, despite its liberal image, lags behind much of the country on education spending, and the union would be more than justified to address its protests to Sacramento. But to the California Charter Schools Association? Depriving poor children of public-school options does not strike us as a progressive value.