This story was updated Nov. 4 to include a correction.
United Teachers Los Angeles, the union representing teachers in L.A. Unified, said on Friday that its members at four schools in regions eligible for millions of dollars in grants from a new nonprofit group voted to renounce the money, which is intended to replicate high-performing schools in some of the district’s low-income communities.
The vote was largely symbolic in that the offer from Great Public Schools Now was made to the district, not the union. But calling the grants a “PR stunt,” the union said they do not represent “a genuine effort to fund schools in need.” The union said 98 percent of its members at Drew Middle School, Pacoima Middle School, Gompers Middle School and San Fernando High School were calling on district officials to reject the money “in any way.”
Great Public Schools Now, a nonprofit organization, grew out of a plan announced last year by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, to double the number of charter schools, now about 230, within L.A. Unified. Over the months that followed, the Broad plan became Great Public Schools Now with a new mission, to donate money to expand and replicate all varieties of district schools in low-income communities that are high-performing in academics, including traditional district schools.
The group is making available $3.75 million in grants to expand up to five schools and programs shown to be high-performing and as much as $100,000 each for five schools to apply for new funding.
“We know that some will see this as an opportunity missed for funding, but the amount offered is peanuts for the billionaires behind this effort,” Jared Dozal, a math and computer science teacher at San Fernando High School, one of the school where union members voted, said in a statement from UTLA. “We won’t let this distract us from saving our schools from a corporate takeover, paid for by the people who only want to destroy public education.”
The seven-member L.A. Unified school board voted to condemn the original Broad plan but expressed an openness to consider the group’s new approach.
Despite the union stance, Great Public Schools Now said it would honor its pledges to any schools that applied for a grant.
“I wish I could say I was surprised to see UTLA – which purports to represent teachers and students around Los Angeles – put politics ahead of what is essentially no-strings-attached funding for district schools,” said Myrna Castrejón, executive director of Great Public Schools Now. “Instead, I am just perplexed. Why would UTLA impede teacher leaders from doing what they do best and lead more innovative programs to serve students better?”
Dozal called the grant’s offers “insulting, considering the amount of money siphoned from public schools to subsidize rampant charter school growth.”
But Castrejón defended her group’s mission, saying, “The idea behind Great Public Schools Now is to do something that hasn’t been done before – to focus on bringing the best education possible to students in communities in need, and not get bogged down in the politics. UTLA seems to be looking for villains in education. So, to support their own political agenda, they’re willing to turn down funds that schools – and their students – desperately need.”
Correction: This article was revised to include the number of schools that participated in the UTLA vote.