February 27, 2015—On February 26th, teachers dressed in red, holding signs, and chanting hymns gathered in Downtown Los Angeles amid stalled negotiations with the Los Angeles Unified district leaders. They demanded two things: higher wages and smaller class sizes.
According to the California Federation of Teachers president Joshua Pechthalt, the teachers are fighting for the “nature of public education.” If the negotiations between the United Teachers Los Angeles and the LA Unified School District do not go anywhere, union leaders say they are ready to strike.
But are teachers willing to participate?
The union’s drive to encourage teachers to join their struggle prior to the rally on Thursday involved knocking on every school’s door, talking to each teacher about their situation, and making sure each educator received a commitment card. Teachers who decided to participate agreed to pledge support for the union and the series of actions that its leaders may propose. Such actions may include leafleting and going on a strike.
In spite of the union’s dedication, the interim superintendent, Ramon Cortines, has already said that the LA Unified does not have the resources to meet the leaders’ demands. According to Cortines, the salary increase demanded by the United Teachers Los Angeles could only be met if government employees are laid off.
So what is UTLA attempting to achieve by forcing this issue on a public institution that is financially broken?
Many education experts like Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice’s Ben Scafidi would say that the simplest way to resolve this problem is to allow school choice to take over.
The public school system hasn’t really improved since the 1970s when it comes to student achievement. The staffing surge of the 1990s did not increase the number of pupils. Public schools did not provide better education to students as a result of the staffing surge and yet, teachers are still unhappy about their wages.
During a conversation journalists had with Scafidi, the professor demonstrated that, when school choice benefits are made available and children leave the public school system for charter or other types of schools, pupils who remain and pupils who leave benefit.
At least 22 empirical studies carried out by different sources have demonstrated that school choice benefits everybody, not only the child who leaves. So if teachers who are members of the UTLA want smaller classes and better wages, demands for an increase by holding open rallies won’t cut it. Public funding does not come from a bottomless pit, it comes from taxpayers.
Instead of making the case for more public school funding, teachers who took it to the street last Thursday may have just made the case for more school choice instead. Unintentionally.
What are your thoughts on school choice? Share your thoughts in the comments.