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Los Angeles and Oakland Teachers Rally Amid Deadlocked Contract Talks

A Los Angeles school board meeting turned raucous days ahead of two solidarity rallies to be held Saturday in L.A. and Oakland.

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LAUSD school board photo and video by Bill Raden.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Two California teachers unions, which are currently deadlocked in separate contract talks with their respective school districts, are on the verge of launching the West Coast’s biggest teacher walkout since 1989. What happens next will decide far more than fair wages for career educators. At stake are broader principles of equity, expressed as contract demands for smaller class sizes and less testing, the addition of sufficient health and social services staff, and an investment in community schooling and fair funding — aimed at restoring public education as a public good for all Californians, rather than as a private interest granted to the lucky few.

While they await the results of a state-mediated fact-finding process, United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) and the Oakland Education Association (OEA) have declared Saturday, December 15, a day of solidarity, and have invited all to join teachers in a rally to defend public education. The Oakland action kicks off at Omni Commons at 11 a.m., while L.A.’s march and rally begins at Grand Park at 10 a.m.

Meanwhile, an estimated 90 Oakland Unified teachers skipped classes December 10 in a one-day wildcat sickout to protest some of the state’s lowest teacher pay — against a backdrop of California’s fast-rising living costs. But a more fundamental grievance is with the $60 million that Oakland Unified must cut over the next two years. It has led superintendent Kyla Johnson-Trammell to adopt a draconian district downsizing plan that could close up to 24 mostly low-income neighborhood public schools and coordinate the remainder of the 87-campus district with the city’s 45 charters on things like enrollment and transportation. The strategy has been likened to a “portfolio model,” the controversial template for privatized district governance that favors charter expansion at the expense of traditional public schools.

It also bears an uncanny resemblance to “Re-Imagine LAUSD,” the prematurely leaked but still mostly secret pet portfolio plan of L.A. Unified supe Austin Beutner — just one of the issues behind the takeover by 50 placard-carrying protesters at the L.A. school board meeting last Tuesday. Students, parents and teachers seized the floor and unfurled a banner of union-aligned demands: an end to random student searches; reductions in class sizes and testing; and the hiring of more health workers, community schools and per-pupil funding. For good measure, they also chanted down attempts by board president Mónica Garcia to restore order, a caterwaul that eventually drove Beutner and his board allies from the room.

Interrupted was a budget hearing marked by a kind of testy déjà vu: CFO Scott Price again played down the significance of a nearly $2 billion cash surplus; and board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson again wearily pushed back against Board District 4’s Nick Melvoin’s insistence that the district’s so-called structural budget deficit was a recipe for mass layoffs and state receivership (in spite of how, in 10 years, none of the district’s projections of red ink has ever been manifested).

“It’s called spin,” shrugged UTLA Central Area board member Tomás Flores at a post-occupy sidewalk rally. “What they have been spinning is that the district is at the edge of bankruptcy. … I believe that the fact-finding did not need to continue any longer than the three days. There wasn’t anything else to be said. The district hasn’t been honest.” (Beutner declined to comment for this story.)

If November’s blue wave means the tide has indeed turned against California’s market-driven ed reformers, grassroots activists aren’t resting on any laurels. That’s why they are circulating a petition launched by the Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), asking Governor-elect Gavin Newsom to abide by four seemingly common sense hiring principles:

  • No conflicts of business interests
  • Education-related appointments must strictly mirror California’s 90/10 proportion of public-to-charter-school enrollments
  • No more Betsy DeVoses guarding the regulatory henhouse (i.e., appoint only seasoned, public school-committed educators to the Advisory Commission on Charter Schools)
  • Genuinely partner with the public schools community to uproot what OPEN considers the predatory incentives and equity barriers that it says are the legacy of California’s 25-year-long ed reform wrong turn.

One reason Newsom might want to expedite the restoration of California’s ed code to a less laissez faire era of grace is the deregulated marketplace’s tendency to incentivize a school’s drift into inequality. That’s the conclusion of “Are California’s Charter Schools the New Separate-But-Equal “Schools of Excellence,” or Are They Worse Than Plessy?”

The February study, by University of Connecticut law professor Preston Green and Montclair State University professor of counseling and educational leadership Joseph Oluwole, looks at California’s low-income public schools landscape, including the history of racially segregated, pre-civil rights “separate-but-equal” schools, to investigate claims that it can be advantageous to concentrate low-income black and Latino kids.

Their conclusion? Bad idea. Despite some worthy, individual examples, when taken out of the community or scaled up and put under an Education Management Organization (EMO), corporate priorities and financial gain invariably drain off resources. Green and Oluwole recommend that states ban EMO franchises altogether and allow authorizing districts to consider economic impact.


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Corruption Exposed in College Admissions Indictments

Wealthy parents caught gaming the system. Eli Broad spends on privatization. The price of each vote for L.A. school board race.

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Photo by Ken Lund

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


Californians made up a telling majority of those charged in Tuesday’s sensational, 50-person federal bust of a $25 million, Newport Beach-based college admissions bribery ring. The indictment, which also names five coaches from USC and UCLA and wilts the ivy at revered elite schools ranging from Yale and Stanford to Georgetown University, netted Hollywood stars Felicity Huffman and Lori Loughlin, along with 23 more of the Golden State’s most privileged and allegedly cheatingest parents. The Los Angeles TimesTeresa Watanabe and Andrew Khouri frame the crackdown as the illicit tip of a higher ed inequality iceberg that includes the largely unregulated, multibillion-dollar college admissions prep sector.

“I hope that this whole coaching industry gets a closer look,” University of California, Santa Barbara American studies professor Christopher Newfield told Learning Curves about the policy implications of the scandal. “Because it’s really expensive, it’s skewed toward affluent people and makes the playing field even less level than it was before. … And it’s constantly gaming the [admissions] process so that people lose confidence in its validity, which is not that hard to begin with.”

Newfield, whose books and research have focused on how 40 years of privatization and state divestment has undercut the public university’s goals of providing broad access and high quality, added that states like California also need to look at why quality college seats have not grown with the population of college students. (He recommends erasing the degree differences that underpin a perceived Cal State/UC diploma caste system.) The final piece to eliminating bad behavior is admissions reform: “When you are rejecting 95 percent of your applicants, you’re rejecting a whole bunch of great people, and the rejection process is somewhat arbitrary. You introduce these odd categories that [are] not fair, and they’re really gameable. That’s what people try to do. It’s crazy.”

The first big-dollar charter donation in L.A. Unified’s special school board election was spotted last week by the L.A. Times’ eagle-eyed Howard Blume, and to nobody’s surprise it bore the signature of L.A.’s own free market-ed megadonor, Eli Broad. Neither was it surprising in a primary distinguished by the determination of pro-charter candidates to remain in the privatization closet until the last possible moment that the $100K check, made out to a PAC supporting former Eric Garcetti aide Heather Repenning, was inked on Election Day.

There’s much at stake for Broad. The billionaire is not only a close, longtime political ally of LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner, he also paid for much of Beutner’s portfolio district transformation plan, which risks being dead on arrival should progressive Jackie Goldberg repeat her overwhelming first-place finish in what looks like a May 14 runoff.

Goldberg’s runoff challenger won’t be known until a final ballot tally confirms whether or not Repenning’s now-razor thin, 35-vote lead over March 5’s current third-place finisher, Huntington Park Councilperson Graciela Ortiz, is sustained (fewer than 100 uncounted ballots remain). But intrepid data cruncher Sara Roos ran the committee expenditures of the March 5 primary race on her RedqueenInLA blog earlier this week to come up with a preliminary per-vote price tag.

The costliest votes of the race went to Repenning, whose underwhelming 13.13 percent outcome cost her backers roughly $352 for each vote; Ortiz’s 13.02 percent set her supporters back $109 per; and the best bargain of the race proved to be Goldberg, whose 48.2 percent cost a mere $63 each.

That leaves billionaires like Broad and Reed Hastings with an interesting campaign-finance calculation on their hands: After throwing $50 million at failed bids to elect pro-privatization candidates as governor and state schools superintendent in the last cycle, do they now risk another expensive confirmation at the polls of voter disenchantment with “school choice” while Sacramento is in the midst of reigning in California’s unregulated charter marketplace?


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Los Angeles School Board Race: Jackie Goldberg Triumphant

An election reversal for L.A. charter school forces. Oakland teachers’ uneasy victory. Betsy DeVos backs a bill everyone hates.

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Jackie Goldberg on election night. (Photo: Bill Raden)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 
The future of L.A. Unified supe Austin Beutner’s plan to remake the Los Angeles Unified School District into a charter school portfolio district got considerably cloudier Tuesday with Jackie Goldberg’s whopping 48 percent first-place finish in LAUSD’s special school board election. Goldberg, a well-known education progressive who campaigned on a vow to lead the fight for a charter moratorium and for restoring pre-Proposition 13 levels of school funding, could still win the seat outright if she takes enough of the remaining 4,700 uncounted mail-in ballots. Otherwise, she’ll face either Huntington Park councilmember Graciela Ortiz (at 13.3 percent) or former Eric Garcetti aide Heather Repenning (13.09 percent), who remain in contention for a distant second place spot, in a May 14 runoff. Stay tuned.

A charter moratorium was also at the center of this week’s settlement to the seven-day Oakland teachers strike. That deal pledges that OUSD school board chair Aimee Eng will introduce resolutions for a charter moratorium and for a five-month hold on further school closures. (It also includes an 11 percent raise, modest class size reductions at “high needs” schools and a district promise to hire more counselors, psychologists, speech pathologists and other support staff.) Up to 24 OUSD public schools have been slated for possible shuttering or consolidation as part of a district austerity plan to slash spending.

The Oakland Education Association’s narrow (1,141 to 832) ratification margin reflected rank and file unease that the district might pay for the contract by moving ahead with $20.2 million worth of cuts in staffing and programming as part of a state bailout — a vote that strikers and community members had already blocked three times during the walkout. Those fears were realized when the board met during the resumed school hours to pass the cuts, which will decimate the district’s restorative justice and Asian Pacific Islander support programs, and generate 100 pink slips that include 33 support staff members, three counselors, three teachers and one police officer. However, with the vote coming three days after the March 1 deadline set by a 2018 law that ties a state bailout to draconian spending cuts, it remains unclear whether the money can legally be released to OUSD.

After over two years of threatening to launch a big-ticket federal school voucher program, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos last week did the next best thing — she backed a Republican proposal for a $5 billion private-school scholarship tax credit sponsored by Representative Bradley Byrne (R-AL) and Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). The credits, which are already allowed by about a dozen states (California is not one of them), are meant to pay for private and religious schooling without directly using tax dollars. The program would most hurt lower-income kids by further siphoning enrollment and resources from the underfunded public schools that most are attending.

The proposal has already run into bipartisan hot water. Ultra-conservatives worry that conditions placed on the money would penalize schools that racially discriminate or teach creationism and climate denial. Democrats are even less enthusiastic. “This proposal is dead on arrival,” said Patty Murray (D-WA), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Education Committee.

The right of hate groups to recruit on campus received a ringing endorsement last weekend when President Donald Trump, speaking at CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), threatened to issue an executive order barring federal research dollars to “colleges and universities that do not support free speech.”

In a response, Terry Hartle, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the American Council on Education, called the presidential threat “a solution in search of a problem.”


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Oakland Teachers Strike Enters Day Seven

Negotiators have been trying to hammer out a deal for smaller classes, more student resources and wages capable of retaining teachers squeezed by gentrification.

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Striking Oakland teachers. (Photo: Bill Raden)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


The Oakland teachers walkout entered its seventh day today, capping a tumultuous week. Wednesday saw hundreds of striking educators and community activists successfully shut down an Oakland Unified school board meeting set to approve $20.2 million in budget cuts. The vote had been scheduled to qualify Oakland Unified for a controversial $34.7 million state bailout bill, passed last year, which set a March 1 deadline for the OUSD board to sign off on a multiyear, $27.4 million spending-reduction package that also targeted up to 24 Oakland public schools for closure.

“We just destroyed their plan tonight,” said Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN) organizer Mike Hutchinson, commenting on the unlikelihood of the board now meeting that deadline. “Now that this is off the table, it will allow the school board to settle a contract with our teachers.” [Update: The OUSD school board has rescheduled the budget cuts vote today at 2 p.m. The union has vowed to again shut down the meeting with pickets.] 

Negotiators have been trying to hammer out a deal over union demands for smaller class sizes, more student resources and support staff, and wages capable of retaining teachers squeezed by gentrification. “Teachers can’t afford to stay in Oakland,” teacher Rosa Kurshan-Emmar told Learning Curves earlier in the week at a picket line in front of East Oakland’s Havenscourt campus. “Districtwide, 20 percent of teachers leave OUSD every year. Our students also deserve more counselors and more nurses. I’m prepared to stay out as long as it takes for our district leadership to step up and for the state to support school districts that serve poor kids of color and the teachers that teach in those places.”

Providing those nurses to Oakland schools may be easier bargained for than done. That’s the conclusion of an EdSource report this week on California’s chronic nursing shortage. The Golden State’s 2,500-to-1 student-to-nurse ratio is already among the highest in the nation, with the shortfall of RNs expected to grow to more than 140,000 by 2030. Districts like L.A. Unified, which last month settled the six-day Los Angeles teachers strike by promising to hire 300 new school nurses, will be hard-pressed to compete. Health care providers pay nurses on average more than $95,000 in Los Angeles compared to less than $80,000 offered by LAUSD. But it gets worse: Even if LAUSD or Oakland ponied up the more than $10,000 for the two additional years of schooling required for a school nursing credential, that still wouldn’t address the state’s chronic shortage of nursing professors.

At least one universal demand by striking California teachers is now being realized — namely, reigning in the state’s 21-year experiment in unregulated charter schools. This week, Assembly Democrats introduced a range of bills that would put elected school boards in charge of deciding where and what kind of schools will best serve the needs of students. The bills would:

  • Close the loophole that allows charters turned down by districts to have those denials reversed by the county or the state
  • Institute a statewide cap on unilateral charter school expansion
  • Enable school boards to honor their fiduciary obligation to voters by factoring in their district’s financial health when considering a new charter petition
  • Prevent charter schools authorized in one district from opening in an adjoining district without that district’s knowledge and permission
  • Require charter school boards to operate with the same open-meeting, conflict of interest, and disclosure laws that district school boards follow

Hate incidents at U.S. college campuses are still on the rise, a new study has confirmed. The Report and Survey on Uncivil Hate and Bias Incidents on Campus found that 82 percent of university diversity, student affairs office staffers, or other equal opportunity professionals encountered a campus hate crime, and over three-fourths reported encountering a hate-based episode within the last two years. Examples were racial slurs written in public places and dormitories, and a proliferation of white supremacist leaflets with racist or Nazi symbols. The data echo the FBI’s annual Hate Crime Statistics survey, which for 2017 reported a nearly nine percent surge in campus hate crime incidents from the previous year.  

Those who worried that the civility and respect that has thus far characterized L.A.’s March 5 special school board election might mean that Angelenos will be deprived of one of the more colorful traditions in LAUSD ed politics can now relax. That’s because last week an independent expenditure committee unleashed a $112,000 torrent of attack ads in a final-stretch smear directed at veteran progressive Jackie Goldberg the only negative mailers to so far appear in the campaign.


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West Virginia Teachers Flex Muscle Again

Meanwhile, Oakland teachers break out the picket signs and LAUSD discovers the joys of transparency.

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LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


“Yes, West Virginia, there is a teachers union, and it’s still fighting mad.” That was the message for Mountain State lawmakers this week when thousands of West Virginia teachers and school workers walked off the job to kill a privatization bill reputedly written in retaliation for last year’s historic nine-day teachers strike. Only hours into the Tuesday-Wednesday walkout, the state’s House of Delegates voted 53 to 45 to indefinitely table Senate Bill 451, which had linked a teacher pay raise to the gutting of job security and a first-time legalization for West Virginia of charters and private school vouchers. “Instead of trying to treat a symptom with garbage legislation that isn’t even vetted or proven to work,” Logan County teacher Kristina Gore told New York magazine, “let’s brainstorm some legislation to fix the real problem — the social conditions in which our children live.”

All eyes now turn to the East Bay, where over 3,000 Oakland Unified educators walked off the job today, following the recommendations issued last Friday by a neutral fact-finding panel, which agreed with key union bargaining positions but was unable to break the deadlock. “Years of underfunding, the unregulated growth of the charter school industry and district neglect [have] starved our schools of the necessary resources,” OEA president Keith Brown charged at a Saturday press conference. In addition to a 12 percent raise over three years, the union is asking for class size reductions, more support staff and is opposing extreme austerity measures that could shutter up to 24 OUSD neighborhood schools.

That OUSD chopping block was the subject of Tuesday’s almost Dickensian Oakland school board meeting in which a procession of tearful parents, students, teachers, activists and education leaders pleaded with trustees to spare programs targeted for cuts. School libraries, the district’s restorative justice and foster youth programs, and its Asian Pacific Islander Student Achievement services have all been slated for deep reductions in the current, $21.75 million round of budget cuts. The final vote comes February 25.

A murky scheme to transform Los Angeles Unified into a“portfolio” or “network” school district became a little more transparent last week when LAUSD suddenly released a torrent of documents related to superintendent Austin Beutner’s “Re-Imagine LAUSD” reorganization plan. After months of stonewalling on California Public Records Act requests from news media and BD 3 school board member Scott Schmerelson, the office of LAUSD General Counsel David Holmquist released hundreds of pages of Re-Imagine contracts and memoranda after Schmerelson upped the ante by introducing a resolution reprimanding the superintendent for his “lack of transparency and responsiveness.” That measure passed in a 5-1 vote Tuesday after board members soundly rejected BD 4 member Nick Melvoin’s attempt to resurrect an old ALEC model law attack on teacher job security called “mutual consent.”

The most eye-popping of the PRAs is LAUSD’s 24-page, $765,000 contract with national portfolio district retrofitters Kitamba. The company, which also designed the portfolio transformation of Camden, New Jersey schools that has turned that district into a parent-versus-parent war zone, was engaged to implement a performance-based rating system that, under the portfolio system of governance, is used by district “network leaders” to justify closing and replacing low-testing public schools — usually with charters. Kitamba CEO Rajeev Bajaj, who may be best remembered in New Jersey for his connection to a conflict-of-interest scandal involving former Newark schools chief Christopher Cerf, is leading the LAUSD effort.

California college sexual assault cases are on hold following last month’s state appellate court decision that ruled a USC football player accused of sexual assault must be allowed to cross-examine his accuser. According to the L.A. Times, the January 4 reversal has left Golden State colleges and universities scrambling to revise their sexual misconduct policies. The decision followed controversial new federal Title IX sexual misconduct rules proposed by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who is seeking to rescind trauma-informed Obama guidelines and replace them with narrower, more trial-like proceedings, including the cross-examination of accusers in real time. Universities, including the UC and Cal State systems, have opposed direct questioning as an intimidation of assault victims. Since the ruling, Cal State has temporarily halted proceedings in 75 cases that are probably eligible for disciplinary hearings. CSU Title IX coordinator Linda Hoos told the Times that the university is crafting a policy where accusers will be cross-examined via videoconferencing and through a neutral intermediary. UC is expected to follow suit.


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Bill Aims to Fix Hollow ‘College Promise’ Aid Program

Also this week: Governor Gavin Newsom chooses a new state education board president, Oakland teachers move closer to a strike and the money continues to flow in an L.A. school board race.

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East Los Angeles College, one of California's 115 community colleges.

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


Governor Gavin Newsom on Tuesday filled the state’s most powerful unelected education post, appointing Stanford University professor emeritus Linda Darling-Hammond as president of California’s State Board of Education. In his State of the State address, Newsom said that the nationally renowned K-12 education researcher would work alongside new schools superintendent Tony Thurmond to confront problems plaguing California’s public schools.

Darling-Hammond, who currently chairs the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing and is president of the Learning Policy Institute, a Palo Alto education think tank, is the first African-American woman to head the 11-member board. The acclaimed expert in teacher preparation and educational equity has more recently come under fire for a report on school choice she co-authored that embraced portfolio districts but ignored the negative impact that charter schools have on the viability of neighborhood public schools.

Oakland high school students staged a one-day sickout Friday in support of Oakland Unified teachers, who have been working without a contract for two years. Four days earlier, the Oakland Education Association overwhelmingly voted to authorize a strike. Defying a prerecorded call and email sent on Thursday by the district that urged parents to keep their kids in class, hundreds of students from across Oakland took to the streets, marching down Broadway from Oakland Tech High School to a rally in front of Oakland Unified’s downtown headquarters.

The strike vote clears the deck for OUSD teachers to walk off the job should tomorrow’s release of fact-findings by a state-appointed mediation panel fail to broker a settlement. In addition to reduced class sizes and more school counselors and nurses, OUSD teachers are demanding an end to a district plan to shutter up to 24 neighborhood schools. On February 11, the OUSD school board delayed a vote on authorizing $20.2 million of an anticipated $30 million in spending cuts in the face of mounting opposition. A coalition of advocacy groups criticized the cuts in a letter to the board, saying the budget process had “not been transparent, inclusive or accountable to the board or community.” That vote was rescheduled for February 25.

California’s College Promise turns out to be a hollow pledge for the majority of the 2.1 million students attending California Community Colleges, charged CCC’s student government president last week. In a CalMatters interview, Iiyshaa Youngblood, a student at Moreno Valley College, described the tuition scholarship program, which currently covers a year’s worth of fees for first-time, full-time community college students, as helping “people who can already afford college.” Assembly Bill 2, which is currently sitting in the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, proposes to expand the program for the second year of community college.


The net college costs of attendance for low-income community college students end up being far more than at a California State University or University of California campus.


According to Youngblood, the students who are most in need are ineligible for College Promise — the part-timers that make up more than two-thirds of the community college enrollment but who are too burdened with jobs and family commitments to manage a full-time course load. The scholarship program further falls short, according to a January report from the Institute for College Access and Success, by not covering non-tuition expenses like food, transportation and textbooks. Instead, the net college costs of attendance (all costs minus financial aid grants) for low-income community college students end up being far more than at a California State University or University of California campus.

The latest update on the money race in Los Angeles Unified’s March 5 special election to fill out the term of disgraced Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez comes courtesy of intrepid ed blogger Sara “Redqueeninla” Roos. In a must-read, granular analysis, Roos breaks down the race’s campaign donations by profession or “affinity.” The results? “An awesome display of the power of machine politics” reflected in the number and size of donations from city contractors, developers, commissioners, public employees and appointees, political consultants and public-private partners.

Of the top four money recipients, Camino Nuevo Charter Academy executive Allison Bajracharya drew 75 percent of the charter-related donations in the race, which comprise 45 percent of her campaign’s receipts. Former Eric Garcetti aide Heather Repenning is second, with 15 percent of all charter donations (or seven percent of her campaign’s overall contributions). Though Repenning, who also leads the top four with a whopping .81 patronage rating, has pledged that she would refuse charter school money, the independent expenditure committee backing her candidacy has already banked a $5,000 check from millionaire businessman and charter super-patron Bill Bloomfield.


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State to Study Charter Schools’ Impact as Money Flows Into L.A. School Board Election

LAUSD marks the passing of Michelle King. The strange case of Sebastian Ridley-Thomas. Will Oakland teachers strike?

Bill Raden

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The late Michelle King. (Photo: LAUSD)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

California’s charter school sector moved one step closer to accountability on Tuesday when Governor Gavin Newsom officially asked State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond to assemble an expert panel to assess the effect on public school district finances by unregulated charter school expansion. Thurmond’s panel represents the first time California will have conducted any kind of in-depth analysis of charter impacts on public education since the state passed its original charter legislation in 1992. It has until July 1 to deliver its findings.

Meanwhile, the race for L.A Unified’s March 5 school board special election entered its final stretch this week as candidates vied to fill out the term of pro-charter Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez, who resigned in July following a felony conviction for campaign money laundering. At stake is the political balance of a split board as L.A. schools superintendent Austin Beutner prepares to roll out a controversial portfolio district reorganization plan.

Beutner’s biggest fear has to be an outright March 5 win by former two-time BD 5 representative Jackie Goldberg, a progressive L.A. icon who is fourth in campaign contributions but is expected to benefit from her broad name recognition and the pivotal endorsement (and financial might) of United Teachers Los Angeles. Nipping at her heels as far as labor support goes is money leader Heather Repenning, a former aide to Mayor Eric Garcetti. Repenning comes to the race with the backing of Service Employees International Union Local 99, which represents school cafeteria workers, janitors and teachers’ aides, and has already chipped in over $400K in independent expenditure money. The contest for the charter vote — and the endorsement of California Charter School Association Advocates, which announced it is waiting to see who makes it to a runoff — is between former charter school executive Allison Bajracharya and Huntington Park City Councilmember Graciela Ortiz, who are respectively number two and three in total campaign contributions.

Flags flew at half-staff this week at Los Angeles Unified in honor of Dr. Michelle King, the much-admired former LAUSD superintendent whose death from cancer at the age of 57 was announced by the district Feb. 2. King, who was hired in January 2016 to replace retiring L.A. schools supe Ramon C. Cortines, had risen through the district’s ranks in a 33-year-career that was cut short by a September 2017 medical leave that became permanent the following January.

As LAUSD’s first African-American woman superintendent, King’s appointment also helped crack a longstanding glass ceiling in education where women account for less than a quarter of all superintendents, according to a 2015 survey by the School Superintendents Association. Her selection had capped weeks of intensive community input that turned out to match King to a tee — a lifelong educator and innovator with deep classroom roots and hands-on experience with LAUSD’s 88 percent diverse enrollment and the challenges facing a massive school district whose student body is wracked by an 80 percent poverty rate.

One wrinkle to hiring career non-educators from Wall Street as your school superintendent turns out to be their unconventional ideas about ethical hiring practices for a public education leader. A week after Learning Curves called out Austin Beutner as one of the first to ink a lobbying deal with scandal-spattered and #MeToo-accused former State Assemblymember Sebastian Ridley-Thomas, a report by the L.A. TimesMelody Gutierrez fills in details on the LAUSD contract and Sacramento’s insider politics-as-usual enabling. And investigative ed blogger Carl Petersen connects more of the curious dots between Beutner, Sebastian and the bad seed lobbyist’s political potentate dad, L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas.

Oakland teachers are now set to turn the East Bay red for ed in the wake of Monday’s announcement by the Oakland Education Association that the OEA rank and file voted 2,206 to 105 to authorize a strike. The soonest that teachers could legally occupy picket lines is after Feb. 15, when a neutral, three-member fact-finding panel is expected to release its report on the teachers’ stalemated contract talks with their district. Teacher demands closely echo those that resulted in last month’s six-day walkout by L.A. teachers. They include a 12 percent raise over three years, smaller classes, additional counselors and school nurses, and scrapping a district plan to close up to 24 neighborhood public schools.


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L.A. School District’s Hire Under Fire as Ridley-Thomas Questions Mount

Why would LAUSD hire a man already on the carpet both for sexual harassment allegations and landing a suspiciously cushy job at USC?

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Sebastian Ridley-Thomas photo by Mark.sanchez.asm

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

One political winner of last week’s Los Angeles teachers strike settlement was L.A. Unified Superintendent Austin Beutner. The former investment banker has made no secret of his desire to one day land the top job at L.A. City Hall, and signing a deal became his first real test of public leadership. Test Two may be more daunting — namely, explaining why he put a scandal-plagued and #MeToo-accused former State Assemblymember on the district payroll as a lobbyist.

The existence of the four-week lobbying contract between LAUSD and Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (SRT), whose father is the powerful L.A. County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas (MRT), came to light January 16, when the Assembly released findings that SRT likely sexually harassed staffers before resigning from the legislature in December 2017. The L.A. Times noted that SRT had accompanied Beutner and LAUSD school board president Mónica García to Sacramento on January 9 to help them drum up lawmaker opposition to the teachers strike. But it is the timing of Beutner’s January 11 bargaining offer two days later — sweetened by a $10 million pledge of county mental health money for school nurses by MRT — that is now raising eyebrows.

Not to worry, former Center for Governmental Studies president Robert Stern assured Learning Curves: “The only way [SRT’s hiring] would have been illegal is if [Mark] Ridley-Thomas had gone to Beutner and said, ‘You want $10 million? Hire my son.’ But is it unethical? Absolutely!”

In a written statement, an LAUSD spokesperson described the county pledge as originating in talks that “began last summer.” The lobbying contract, it affirmed, was terminated January 16, “once the Assembly investigation was made public.” (Neither of the Ridley-Thomases responded to requests for comment.) Left unexplained is why LAUSD would risk hiring somebody already under an ethics blowtorch from last August’s L.A. Times headlines on the sexual harassment allegations and on a second SRT scandal at the University of Southern California that similarly involved a cushy job for junior and a large sum from senior. That case was forwarded by USC to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Los Angeles for possible criminal prosecution.

Perhaps the biggest feather in the L.A. schools supe’s cap was added on Tuesday. Beutner not only successfully shepherded the United Teachers Los Angeles agreement through a unanimous LAUSD school board vote but also made good on a promise to teachers that he would support a resolution calling for an immediate pause on new charter school authorizations. The Richard Vladovic-authored measure, which urges state lawmakers to take an eight-to-10 month statewide breather to assess the impacts and efficacy of the state’s 27-year-old charter laws, has no legal force. Nevertheless, hundreds of panicked charter parents rallied outside the meeting under the mistaken impression the board was voting to ban charters. Despite a last-minute attempt by BD 6 member Kelly Gonez to dilute its language, only BD 4’s Nick Melvoin ended up casting a no vote.

LAUSD need only have looked to Oakland Unified to understand the urgency for a charter time-out. On Monday, the OUSD board of directors voted to close East Oakland’s Roots International Academy middle school. That action, which sparked a firestorm of community outrage, was only the first casualty of a draconian district plan to slash $30 million in spending by closing up to 24, predominately low-income neighborhood schools. More school closing announcements are expected soon.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the closings, which are also at the center of this week’s strike vote by the Oakland Education Association, have proved a galvanizing force for East Bay ed progressives. “The Roots vote was just one school, and we were having hundreds of people showing up,” noted organizer Mike Hutchinson of the Oakland Public Education Network (OPEN), which opposes the closures. “This week other schools are finding out they’re under threat. And so at the next meeting, there will probably be 10 schools there. We are in a very strong position for this fight now.”


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Learning Curves

Los Angeles Teachers Strike Enters Second Week Without a Deal in Sight

Contract talks between the Los Angeles school district and teachers union continue, but don’t expect classes to resume before Wednesday.

Bill Raden

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City Hall teachers rally photo by Joanne Kim

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Capital & Main’s budget analysis of the Los Angeles Unified School District’s financials have revealed a school district with far more money at its disposal than LAUSD has claimed during the teachers strike. Estimates that new money from the governor’s recently proposed budget, plus unspent revenues from LAUSD’s yearly over-projections of spending and under-projections of LCFF funding increases, should give schools superintendent Austin Beutner roughly $640 million more to settle core union demands that the district has priced at $400 million per each contract year. That leaves only philosophical disagreements. The union has framed the strike as a fight for democratic, civic values and as holding the line against gearing education to serve solely private economic interests. Teachers are also demanding a greater say in school site budgets and on reducing non-mandated achievement testing.

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The January 16 release of Governor Gavin Newsom’s revised state budget had thoroughly upended LAUSD’s monetary objections to a strike settlement. The district had been insisting that LAUSD couldn’t afford United Teachers Los Angeles’ demands for lower class sizes or for bringing school sites up to pre-Great Recession levels of full-time nurses, librarians, counselors and social services workers. But Newsom’s proposal to spend a record $80.7 billion on K-12 education undercut that poverty argument with pension savings worth as much as an additional $140 million that LAUSD can now put onto the bargaining table. The district has also been sitting on another $1.9 billion in surplus cash reserves.

For those keeping score, Week One of the strike saw the union gaining support of parents and students as the days wore on. LAUSD reported that school attendance, which was around 30 percent of normal on Tuesday, had plunged to 17 percent by Thursday and Friday. Despite driving rains, UTLA strike organizers staged several mass rallies, including gatherings in front of the California Charter Schools Association (to protest the opening of a Boyle Heights “mega KIPP” charter school) and in front of school board member Mónica García’s house. Friday saw UTLA’s most impressive flexing of its muscle, when over 60,000 strikers and supporters converged on downtown’s Grand Park just as bargaining was getting under way across the street.

Political casualties of the strike may turn out to be onetime (and future?) L.A. mayoral hopeful Beutner and fellow Democrat allies in the school board majority voting bloc, who have been increasingly isolated as party leaders, both statewide and nationally, have come out on the side of the teachers. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders expressed solidarity with L.A. teachers and urged “a revolution in public education.” Sanders’ theme was echoed by New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her own tweet of support. By week’s end even the L.A. school board itself officially split when board members George McKenna and Scott Schmerelson came out with strong statements backing the teachers.

As striking Los Angeles teachers take a break from school picket lines today for the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, negotiations that had resumed on Thursday and continued through the long weekend don’t appear to have yielded the breakthrough needed to get educators back into the classroom by Tuesday. A tersely worded statement yesterday from L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti, who is hosting the sessions at City Hall under a media blackout, described Sunday’s meeting as “productive” and affirmed that both sides remained committed to working around the clock to resolve the outstanding issues as quickly as possible. But don’t expect classes to resume before Wednesday. It will take at least a day, says UTLA, for the rank and file to approve any settlement.


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Will Los Angeles Teachers Strike Jan. 10?

A state-appointed fact-finding panel mostly punted on unresolved equity demands that form the heart of what Los Angeles’ teacher union has framed as a fight to save L.A.’s “civic institution of public education.”

Bill Raden

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Teachers and their supporters rally in downtown Los Angeles, December 15. (Photo: Bill Raden)

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

Fasten your seatbelts Los Angeles, it’s going to be a bumpy strike. That was the subtext to a tumultuous week that saw over 50,000 L.A. teachers, students and families take to the streets Saturday to support a union faced with budgetary saber-rattling by Los Angeles Unified, and that climaxed on Wednesday with United Teachers Los Angeles president Alex Caputo-Pearl setting a January 10 walkout date — unless Los Angeles Unified negotiators meet key union demands for investments in the district’s highest-poverty students.

Caputo-Pearl’s announcement came a day after L.A. Unified superintendent Austin Beutner erroneously claimed that the union had accepted the district’s six percent pay raise offer, as recommended in Tuesday’s report by state-appointed fact-finders who also urged LAUSD to kick in the modest equivalent of a one to three percent salary increase for new hires to reduce class sizes, and for both sides to work together to lobby Sacramento for more state funding.

Fact-finding panel chairman David A. Weinberg mostly punted on 19 of 21 unresolved equity demands that form the heart of what UTLA has framed as a fight to save L.A.’s “civic institution of public education.” The union won some minor points, like the allowing of teacher input on charter co-locations, and on scrapping a district privilege to unilaterally lift class size caps during fiscal crunches. But by accepting at face value LAUSD’s latest claims of imminent bankruptcy, Weinberg left unanswered a critical question: How could LAUSD annually project catastrophic, three-year deficits and still have its unrestricted cash reserves balloon from $500 million to nearly $2 billion during the same five-year period?

“We have watched underfunding and actions of privatizers undermine our students and our schools for too long. No more,” Caputo-Pearl warned on Wednesday.

The controversy over LAUSD’s “structural deficit” is already defining next March’s special school board election. Ten candidates have thrown in their hats for the seat left vacant by the July resignation of disgraced ex-Board District 5 member Ref Rodriguez. At stake is the single-vote edge enjoyed by Rodriguez’s former pro-charter voting block, currently led by board president Monica Garcia. But the race heated up considerably last week when former two-time BD 5 representative Jackie Goldberg won the UTLA board’s overwhelming endorsement. The contest hinges on which of the other candidates will attract the lucrative support of charter school backers, who in 2017 spent a record-shattering $6.6 million to oust former board president Steve Zimmer in favor of staunch Beutner ally Nick Melvoin.

Also heating up is speculation on how Governor-elect Gavin Newsom’s State Board of Education picks will alter the ideology of a board that has been seen as bending over backwards to favor charter schools. This week, the nonprofit education news site EdSource pointed out that, although it will take years to fully reshape the Jerry Brown-appointed, 11-member board, Newsom’s first opportunity will come on his January 7 inauguration day. That’s when current president Michael Kirst, who was instrumental in California’s adoption of dubious Common Core State Standards, retires. Departing a week later will be Trish Boyd Williams, whose pro-charter charter enthusiasm and career ties to corporate-reform cash have been the bane of local school boards. Also leaving in 2019 will be Bruce Holaday. The term of Karen Valdes, who was appointed to fill a vacancy in 2017, ends in January.


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A Come-From-Behind Win for Tony Thurmond?

L.A. Unified reimagines the 1990s. The effects of immigration crackdowns on Latino student enrollment. Tony Thurmond rallies to take the lead in state schools chief race.

Bill Raden

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Superintendent-apparent: Tony Thurmond

“Learning Curves” is a weekly roundup of news items, profiles and dish about the intersection of education and inequality. Send tips, feedback and announcements of upcoming events to  braden@capitalandmain.com, @BillRaden.


 

The lid on a secret scheme to radically decentralize Los Angeles Unified was partially pried open last week when the Los Angeles Times provided the first inklings of what LAUSD superintendent Austin Beutner has variously called “realignment” and “reimagining” since his hiring in May. Times education writers Howard Blume and Anna Phillips say highlights include a purge of “discretionary” staff at the district’s Beaudry Avenue headquarters. Budgeting, hiring and curriculum authority would be transferred to LAUSD’s 988 district-managed schools, which will be organized into 32 geographic “networks” under the oversight of regional offices. The theory is that cost savings and “charter-like” autonomy will improve student outcomes. Beutner is expected to unveil details next month.

Reimagining’s actual reimagineers are outside consultants who carried out a similar reorganization of Newark, New Jersey schools using a highly controversial approach borrowed from Wall Street. Called the “portfolio model,” it means each of the 32 L.A. networks would be overseen like a stock portfolio. A portfolio manager would keep the “good” schools and dump the “bad” by turning them over to a charter or shutting them down much like a bum stock. Why that should fare any better than a short-lived LAUSD reform in the 1990s that also divided the district into small, semi-autonomous clusters but failed to budge academic performance remains unclear. The changes in Newark included neighborhood school closures, mass firings of teachers and principals, a spike in new charters and a revolt by parents that drove out former Newark supe — and current L.A. consultant — Cami Anderson.

One wrinkle in LAUSD going portfolio is the March 5 special election to fill the District 5 seat left vacant by the August resignation of disgraced board member Ref Rodriguez. District 5 veteran Jackie Goldberg’s October 26 announcement that she is running for a third term in her old board seat could effectively make the contest a local referendum on the Beutner plan. The progressive, twice-elected L.A. City Councilmember and two-term California Assemblymember has never lost a race in her political career. The pro-charter forces on the current one-vote board majority might consider having a kinder, gentler-to-public school families Plan B waiting in the wings.

Speaking of shoo-ins, it turns out that any talk of a Marshall Tuck victory in last week’s inconclusive election for California Superintendent of Public Instruction was a tad premature. As of Wednesday evening, the California Secretary of State reported that progressive Assemblymember Tony Thurmond has surged ahead of the former charter school operator by nearly 75,000 votes in the ongoing count of an estimated 4.8 million, mostly mail-in ballots that arrived after Election Day. Although millions of ballots remain to be counted, given the fact that late voters in California traditionally swing leftward and more diverse, Learning Curves is officially going out on a limb to be the first to congratulate superintendent-elect Thurmond on his narrow but decisive victory.

This week’s prize for the least surprising findings in an education study goes to Stanford researchers Thomas Dee and Mark Murphy, who determined that wherever county law-enforcement cooperated in ramped-up immigration enforcement with ICE agents, Latino school enrollment dropped by an average of almost eight percent within two years. Federal law prohibits schools and districts from adopting policies that deny or discourage children from enrolling because of immigration status. But Dee and Murphy’s “Vanished Classmates: The Effects of Local Immigration Enforcement on Student Enrollment” estimated that 300,000 Latino children were uprooted from their schools between 2000 and 2011 in 55 jurisdictions that had voluntary enforcement partnerships with the feds.


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