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Learning Curves

Los Angeles Teachers Prepare for Strike

Tensions mount between L.A. teachers and the city’s public school district. Betsy DeVos’ No Gun Left Behind grants. Will California’s charter school law be revised after 26 years?

Bill Raden

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Photo 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.


 

United Teachers Los Angeles took a critical step closer to a strike last week — L.A. Unified’s first in 29 years —with a strike authorization vote by 33,000 union educators at the nation’s second-largest school district. The outcome won’t be announced till tomorrow, but teachers on the opening day of polling at Thomas Starr King Middle School in Silver Lake were confidently predicting a 90 percent affirmation at their site. In the meantime, tempers have been heated on both sides. UTLA president Alex Caputo-Pearl has accused the district of intentionally stalling in setting a September 27 mediation date, which LA School Report’s Mike Antonucci reports could be true, and teachers continue to express anger over what they say are unfounded assertions made by “Hard Choices,” the district “realignment” blueprint commissioned by Austin Beutner prior to his being named L.A. schools chief.

“Teachers here have to work second jobs in order to make ends meet, and we’re told we’re overpaid,” Wil Page, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at King Middle School’s Environmental STEAM Magnet, complained of the blueprint. “Our district does need to make some hard choices, but it doesn’t need to be solely on the backs of educators.”

Betsy DeVos Update: The U.S. Secretary of Education triggered near-universal condemnation last week when she was reported to be considering using federal Student Support and Academic Enrichment (SSAE) grant money to buy guns for teachers. It was left to the Washington Post’s Valerie Strauss to point out the irony that DeVos had told a Senate subcommittee in June that her Federal Commission on School Safety, which was created by President Trump after the Parkland, Florida school mass shooting, would not be looking at gun control as a possible recommendation for stopping violence at schools.

California’s top education official has announced the formation of his own commission, albeit one that will be reviewing California’s 26-year-old charter law. According to a state Education Department press release, the Action Team on Charter Schools was appointed by termed-out State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson to “objectively examine issues regarding charter schools with the goal of promoting equity for all students and helping all students succeed in 21st century careers and college.” It follows on comments made last month by chief deputy superintendent Glen Price on the need to revise the “out of date” law to, among other things, allow consideration of financial impact on host districts when authorizing new charters. Such a revision could be a game-changer. Complaints that the current law’s virtual carte blanche for charter startups to open whenever and wherever they like in fiscally savaged districts are at the heart of California’s quarter-century education wars. Expect a report by the end of the year.

One group certain to be following the Action Team’s work is #WeChoose Bay Area, a new, pro-public school coalition of over a dozen veteran education equity organizations and community groups, anchored by the national Journey for Justice Alliance and the Oakland Public Education Network. According to Oakland organizer Mike Hutchinson, the group will be traveling to Sacramento on September 7 to make its official California debut at a rally in front of the state Capitol, followed by a march on the State Board of Education. Its objective? “To make sure our elected officials know that public education is an issue that we will be voting on in this year’s election.”


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