EdSource asked a cross-section of Los Angeles education leaders to reflect on the consequences of the strike that drew national attention. Click on their images below to read their thoughts.
Los Angeles Unified Superintendent
How would you characterize relations with the union right now?
They’re constructive. We said at the time — I and the head of the union — one contract doesn’t solve it all. One contract’s not going to solve decades of frustrations felt by educators. One contract’s not going to get us towards funding adequacy, but it provided a framework for progress and moving forward and we’re moving forward together.
One of the demands of the strike, not only here, but also in Oakland and other places where there’s been a labor unrest, is the need for the state to come up with more funding.
It’s fairly fundamental in California. It may be different than other states. All of our funding comes from the state, so a strike against an individual school district is sort of at odds with where the solution may lie. We, together, want to have smaller classes. We’d like to pay our educators more, which I think we can all agree on. Where’s more going to come from? It comes from the state, that’s where funding comes from.
Do have any thoughts as to why what happened in Los Angeles and then in Oakland didn’t trigger a wave of protests across the state?
I think we’re taking the fight, we’re taking the conversation where it belongs — to Sacramento. During the strike, and the Red for Ed conversation I said, how about Green for Ed? Show me the money. So we’ve taken the conversation to Sacramento, we and our labor partners together, we and other school districts; so Oakland, ourselves, others are advocating very strongly for additional funding in Sacramento.
United Teachers Los Angeles President
In your view, did the Los Angeles strike spark statewide teacher activism? If so, how?
We’ve been meeting with Oakland and other urban unions in California for a number of years. So there was some coordination with the (Oakland teachers’) strike. The main reflections of activism immediately after the L.A. and Oakland strikes was activism around the charter bills (AB 1505, which gave districts more authority to reject charter schools, and AB 1507, which closed a loophole allowing charter schools to operate in districts where they aren’t authorized). There was a major mobilization in Sacramento in May around the charter bills. And then a lot of that activism has funneled into the Schools and Communities First ballot initiative, where we’ve got unions in a much better position now, having looked at the L.A. and Oakland strikes and learned from them to build structures within their own unions, to get the signatures for and ultimately get the votes for Schools and Communities First. (EdSource note: Schools and Communities First, also known as the “split-roll” initiative, will likely appear on the November ballot and would amend Proposition 13’s restrictions to raise taxes on commercial and business properties but not homeowners.)
How would you assess the state of the district’s finances? Can they afford to follow through on the promises made in the teachers’ contract?
I’d say two things. One is the same thing we said throughout the strike, which is the district does have money in an oversized reserve right now to create a temporary pathway toward what schools need. But to make that permanent, we do have to get the (split-roll) initiative done to get California out of 43rd place out of 50 states in per-pupil funding.
The second thing is, the district did use a significant amount of the reserve to pay for the agreement that came out of the strike, but it also still has substantial reserves. So in terms of the re-opener bargaining that we’re going to be starting this month, where we’re re-opening on three articles (in the agreement) — salary, special education and staffing, with a focus on mental health staffing — the district has money to meet those demands. So our line is pretty much the same. There’s district money to continue to create a temporary pathway, but the permanent pathway is to take on the issue of state funding.
Mayor of Los Angeles
How much did teachers gain from the strike?
Teachers sacrificed more gains that they could have had personally to help the classroom and that was what they struck for. But we all knew that the district could stretch to do that for about two years without new revenue sources. It freezes there and potentially in a bad year it goes backwards.
Things have been pretty quiet since the strike in terms of teacher activism. What do you see as the fallout of the strike?
Measure EE (the split roll measure defeated in Los Angeles), that wasn’t quiet. I think people are gathering trying to get Schools and Communities First (the split roll initiative on the November ballot) passed. I also think that there’s a reckoning coming in about a year or so, where they’re going to go off a cliff financially in terms of these (budget) reductions. If people are satisfied with moving from a 35 person classroom to just 33 and saying that’s good enough, fine. But I certainly am not going to be very shy or quiet about saying we need resources if we’re going to serve our children. And we need to engage and sponsor and give to our young people or else our schools will continue to try to do too much with too little.
Do you think there needs to be more activism?
No, I’ve been to huge gatherings of thousands of people training for Schools and Communities First, and that’s where everybody’s focus is, to try to get this done statewide.
Is it going to pass?
I hope so. I’m going to fight for it.
Professor of education policy at USC Rossier School of Education
What impact do you think the strike had?
I think it shifted some of the local politics. There was a special election for the school board in May. Jackie Goldberg was elected in a landslide. She’s backed by the union.
I think there was definitely a moment in time where all of the various players were working together to support (Measure EE) in June that unfortunately didn’t pass. But there was a moment of kind of coalition that built. But we didn’t see the kind of massive protests at the state level. I think people were hoping that people would be taking the bus up to Sacramento and pushing on some of these issues. Because the issues at stake in this strike were issues that had to be addressed at a state level. But we didn’t see that necessarily happening and it was short lived in terms of the support, because as we know, Measure EE went down in June.
I would say, though, that one of the broader legacies and successes was state-level change around charter schools. And so in some sense that might be the biggest, you know, legacy at a state level of what occurred. I think in conjunction with the Oakland teachers strike, there was pressure on the state to adopt measures to limit charter school growth. And I think the fact that the strike in LA, with LA being the largest charter school authorizer in the country, definitely contributed to this pressure for the passage and signature of AB 1505.
Los Angeles Unified School Board Member
What about the divisions that the strike created? Have those healed?
In my district, some of the scar tissue that I heard about the 1989 strike was there 30 years later. People weren’t talking to each other. I haven’t seen that this time around.
Why did the Measure EE (the parcel tax measure) fail?
I did wonder why everyone was supporting our teachers during the strike in January, and then less than 50 percent supported Measure EE. The union was effective in saying the district has the money as a rallying cry, and then voters were told that we needed more. That created a bit of whiplash. In addition, voters were taxed twice on homeless measures, and didn’t see results.
Maybe they were saying, “why should we support another initiative?” And then perhaps a silent majority, a large portion of the city, believes we do need more funding, but that the district needs to do better. Perhaps we were saying we need more money without a plan from the district or the union to say how we would us district resources to be more effective.
What kind of longer impact to you think the strike has had?
I think there is a renewed understanding and maybe a concomitant rallying cry around the need for more funding for public schools.
It did seem that parties that were on opposite sides during the strike came together behind the parcel tax.
The day we lost, we all agreed that the coalition had to stay together, that we are stronger united than divided. That coalition is still together.
Professor of education in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
What type of impact do you think the strike had?
I think the strike started a pattern that we saw picked up in Oakland and then Chicago, of teachers in urban districts really pushing an agenda, a broader agenda, focused on the conditions in schools. And LA started that. And I think that’s very significant. And I think, although it wasn’t clear at first what would come of it, I am seeing a lot of evidence, cooperation between the city and the County, which, I attribute in part to the strike.
What types of cooperation are you seeing and how does that relate to the strike?
The city is going to do more now to help the district address the needs of homeless kids and the county is going to work with them around mental health services. All of that’s good. And those are the kinds of issues that the union was raising.
The district has said that in the later years of the contract in 2021-22, they’re going to need to find new funding to be able to follow through on some of the promises in the contract. The district says they’re dipping into their reserves and they’re going to basically run out of money. With the district sounding the alarm about its finances, do you think that is an accurate depiction of the fiscal state of LA Unified?
I’m having trouble getting accurate information. The district claimed before that their finances were dire. And then suddenly it appears they’re not as dire. So, I don’t know what to make of it. You know, according to the district, the superintendent, they’re running a structural deficit. But I don’t know, I really can’t speak to it. I thought before, I had accepted what the district was saying, and the County was saying the district was in financial trouble. But now I’m not hearing anybody say that now, so I don’t know what to say.
The union has said that in the past they’ve had similar warnings from the district — they sort these apocalyptic warnings that they’re running out of money and those predictions haven’t come to fruition. Is that a fair stance?
When I came to LA five years ago, I did a retreat for the board under Michelle King. And a lot of it focused on structural deficits facing the district. And you know, the signs were that it would, they would be facing significant hardships. But so far that hasn’t borne out.
Professor of education in the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies
What kind of impact do you think the strike had?
I see the LA teacher strike building on the national momentum, the Red for Ed movement, and then setting up other teacher strikes. … And that’s reflected in the Oakland strike and it’s reflected in the Chicago strike. And so the way in which those other strikes play out really are influenced by the language that’s used in the success of the LA teacher strike.
How do you think the strike impacted the Oakland and Chicago strikes?
I wouldn’t want to dismiss the on-the-ground community-based organizing that I know played out in both Oakland and Chicago…. But I do think that the success of the LA strike … both gave a sense of vision and also fortified the commitments I think of those that were leading the strikes in both of those cities. Because going on strike is risky business and having a sense that certain things can be gained in the process is essential so that you don’t feel like you’re making yourself and your allies vulnerable with no hope of achieving something more substantial.
Should the strike get credit for the signing of AB 1505?
“In part. … I think what we’ve seen in the last three to four years is an overall shift in the common sense nationally, and then even more so in California, on the importance of regulation as we think about charter schools. … I think in California, one of the reasons behind it is that school choice has increasingly been associated with the Trump administration and Betsy DeVos. … But the teachers strike, I do think raised those issues, it kind of lifted up that discourse that then was echoed in Oakland, in ways that I think made it important for the Legislature to act in the short term.”
Professor of education at Occidental College
What type of impact do you think the strike had?
I don’t see a major change right now. I think that much of what the teachers wanted was what the district wanted as well. I think that in getting the monies, the district is going to have to continue to use their reserves. Much of their money, as you know, comes from the state. So, in some ways of the strike, I think the strike against the district probably was more about how they use the resources that they are given from the state. So any time you want to add something, you gotta take something away. Unless you get more money. They tried the parcel tax and both the district and the union were behind it. I thought the union could have rode the wave on that to get that passed, but they didn’t. So they’re back at square one in terms of, OK, where do we get the money?
I think ultimately, with the (split-roll initiative), the school district and the union, they’re going to have to figure out a way to reclaim the argument about funding for education. Again, I was surprised that on the one hand, the teachers had some support (after the strike). But that’s what when it came down to the (Measure EE) vote, that support wasn’t there.
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