On Monday more than 30,000 teachers at 900 schools in Los Angeles, California, will be on strike.
And unlike the wave of teachers strikes last year in red states like West Virginia, this time educators are taking to the streets due to the policies of Democrats.
At issue are things like lowering class sizes and providing more nurses, librarians and counselors.
But behind these issues lies one of the most important facts about our country.
When you get right down to it, there is very little difference between many Democratic policymakers and their Republican counterparts.
You think Betsy Devos is the opposite of Arne Duncan? Wrong.
You think Barack Obama is the opposite of Donald Trump? Wrong again.
Though there are differences, those often amount to differences of degree.
Corporate Democrats like almost all Republicans support the same education policies – school privatization and high stakes testing – that are robbing the LA Unified School District of the funding it needs to meet the needs of its students.
THAT’S why class sizes have ballooned to more than 45 students in secondary schools; 35 students in upper elementary grades; and 25 students in lower elementary grades.
THAT’S why the district does not have nearly enough counselors, psychologists or librarians to give students the support they need.
THAT’S why 80% of schools don’t have full-time nurses.
The second largest district in the country has more charter schools than any other. The overwhelming majority of them are operated by corporate chains and have expanded by 287% over the last 10 years.
These are publicly funded but privately run schools. They don’t have to meet the same standards of accountability or transparency about how they spend taxpayer dollars – all while gobbling up $600 million a year!
That is money that parents and community members are forced to pay but about which they have very little say. It’s money that can – and often does – go right into the pockets of charter school operators without providing its full value to the students it was meant help educate. It’s money set aside for all children but given to educate merely a handful of students chosen by those same businesspeople who run these charters because they think these children will be cheaper and easier to educate.
That’s not Democracy. No self-respecting Democrat should support such a thing – but you’ll find luminaries from Obama to the Clintons to Cory Booker who will tell you what a great idea it is. Along with DeVos, Trump, Jeb Bush and the Koch Brothers.
LA Superintendent Austin Beutner is a Democrat, but he’s also a multimillionaire with experience in corporate downsizing and none in education.
According to an op-ed by President of United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) Alex Caputo-Pearl published in the LA Times:
“…Beutner has moved ahead with what we believe is his agenda to dismantle the district. Through an outside foundation, he has brought on firms that have led public school closures and charter expansion in some districts where they have worked, from New Orleans to Washington, D.C. This approach, drawn from Wall Street, is called the “portfolio” model, and it has been criticized for having a negative effect on student equity and parent inclusion.”
These are policies in direct opposition to the progressive ideals at the heart of the Democratic Party. They are, in fact, bedrock Republican ideology and demonstrate the vast divide among Democrats.
New Democrats oppose them. Grassroots Democrats oppose them. Democratic voters oppose them. And it will be telling whether the policymakers in our halls of power will follow the lead of the people or try to shepherd the power behind the party into doing what the patricians think best.
That’s why this strike is important way beyond California. Whatever happens will send echoes throughout the country, because school districts from sea to shining sea are facing similar issues.
In the meantime, the LA Unified District has a $1.8 Billion budget surplus it can use to help meet these needs. But the solutions to the district’s woes require a long-term commitment to public education.
Certainly the state of California needs to increase its per pupil spending. It’s the richest state in the country, yet ranks 43rd out of 50 in this regard.
This would help the district raise teacher salaries to match those of surrounding districts.
But the root problem is a lack of ideological support among policymakers.
Too many Democrats inside and outside the district don’t support the very idea of public schools. They’d rather boost privatization.
Too many Democrats support unnecessary and harmful high stakes standardized testing which not only unfairly paints the district as a failure for the poverty of its students but forces out things of real education value like the arts and ethnic studies.
Too many Democrats have no problem doing this in a district that serves a majority of students of color while providing only the best for middle class white kids.
That’s why today the American people stand with the UTLA as they go on strike.
It’s why we always stand with educators – You can’t put students first if you put teachers last.
Democrats need to get their priorities straight.
It’s time to decide if they’re going to continue being Trump lite or reclaim their progressive heritage and rejoin the rest of the nation.
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