Since Monday, more than 30,000 Los Angeles educators left their classrooms to go on strike for the first walkout of 2019.
The teachers are demanding a 6.5 percent raise and calling for more funding for public schools, noting that staff is extremely low, with some schools lacking even one nurse or librarian, classes are too large and there aren’t enough desks for students and that the growth of charter schools has created an over-tested student body that views education as more of a business than a right to U.S. youth.
The strike, Los Angeles teachers’ first in 30 years, follows months of unproductive negotiations between the teacher’s union, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), and the Los Angeles Unified School District.
On Friday, the school system extended a deal, but teachers rejected it, expressing that they’re fighting for the future of the education system.
Organizers are on Day 3 of the strike, and Los Angeles schools Supt. Austin Beutner laments the demonstration is costing the state millions. On the first day, only a third of the district’s students showed up for class, with that number growing, slightly, in the days that followed. So far, it has cost the school system about $25 million in state funding tied to enrollment, he told the Los Angeles Times. Deducting unpaid wages for the strikers at about $10 million, he continued, and that comes to an estimated one-day net loss of nearly $15 million.
But Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of UTLA, said Tuesday that members are “prepared to go as long as it takes” to get a fair contract.
“This has been already an historic week for educators and for public education in Los Angeles,” Caputo-Pearl told the paper.
Tens of thousands of LA teachers, counselors, nurses and librarians were inspired by teacher walkouts throughout the nation, from Arizona and West Virginia to Kentucky and Oklahoma, many of them ending in victories. A triumph for Los Angeles educators would mean an agreement and resources to move toward smaller classrooms, reductions in standardized tests, increased support staff and higher salaries.
“We need to invest in public education,” Jennifer Heath, a drama teacher at Burroughs Middle School, said during Tuesday’s strike. She held a sign that read “FUND THE FUTURE” in red block letters.
Despite rainy weather, educators remain on the picket line, demanding change they believe is necessary for the success of future generations.
“Teachers are dedicated. Teachers become teachers because they want to affect the future and make a difference in human beings’ lives, and we’re passionate about that,” she said. “That’s why we stand in the rain. We’re used to horrible conditions and we can handle more, but we shouldn’t have to,” Hollywood High history teacher Kelly Bender said.