Los Angeles—American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten will join United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl and thousands of Los Angeles educators—along with parents, students, clergy, community members, and other trade unionists and working people—on picket lines on Monday, the first day of their strike. UTLA is calling on the Los Angeles Unified School District and Superintendent Austin Beutner to use the city’s significant reserves and new state funding to respond to the educators’ cries for school counselors, nurses and librarians; to cap class sizes; and to prioritize the neighborhood schools that have been drastically underfunded, instead of focusing on growing charter schools.
The historic strike—the first educator strike in Los Angeles in nearly 30 years—represents a fundamental clash over the vision and values for the city and for public education nationwide. After more than 20 months of negotiations between the union and the district, it’s clear the district’s priority is not its kids, its public schools or those who teach.
And while Beutner and LAUSD have waged a costly legal and public relations campaign to blame teachers, and are now retaliating against students who support their teachers, UTLA has seen an outpouring of support from parents and community members because of the real issues facing the city’s public schools: overcrowded classrooms, onerous standardized testing and a per-pupil funding rate that ranks California 43rd in the nation. Both Gov. Gavin Newsom and Mayor Eric Garcetti have called for more resources for public schools, and in anticipation of the strike, tens of thousands of people have signed a petition asking Beutner to do the right thing.
On Tuesday, Weingarten will join the Accelerated Schools’ charter educators as they begin their strike. The 80 members of UTLA who work in the charter network are facing 40 percent turnover rates and one-year contract renewals that negatively affect student achievement.
“Last year,” Weingarten said, “public school educators in West Virginia, Oklahoma and Arizona, and charter school educators in Illinois, walked out for their kids. Now, in L.A., a big, wealthy city, educators are doing the same, and for the same reasons: They’re tired of the pattern of starving our schools and our students of the resources they need for their success. Teachers want to teach, but they need help, not school leaders who just want to take a district apart piece by piece. This is not a business driven by a profit motive; this is public schooling, driven by the motivation that we care about all kids. And if the school system’s superintendent cared about teaching and learning enough to invest in them, we wouldn’t be on the precipice of a strike now.”
As Weingarten noted, “L.A.’s teachers are working two and three jobs to afford rent, and they’re teaching in classrooms with 40 or 50 students, in schools without counselors, librarians or nurses.”
She continued, “The district is crying poverty, but this is about choices: Do we deny public schools the resources they need, then push a privatization and charter agenda to solve it? Or do we strive to make every public school a place where teachers want to teach, students want to learn and parents want to send their kids?
“Austin Beutner isn’t fooling anyone. We’ve seen this slash-and-burn agenda play out before, and as the people in the classroom every day, we know: Scarcity is not a strategy that actually helps kids learn. L.A.’s teachers are willing to strike until they get the resources they need to do their jobs effectively.”
During the strike, UTLA and other community groups will mobilize to support families, including creating a strike fund for educators; providing meals for students; and offering child care, transportation and activity options to help families. Thousands nationwide are wearing red on Monday, Jan. 14, in solidarity with Los Angeles, and starting Jan. 15, cities around the country will stage walk-ins and other actions in solidarity with UTLA.