Los Angeles Teachers Unions Continue Campaign to Take Down Charter Schools

Published June 30, 2016

The United Teachers Union of Los Angeles (UTLA) spent the final weeks of the 2015–16 school year organizing protests against charter schools and releasing a commissioned study that claims charters have caused other Los Angeles public schools to lose hundreds of millions of dollars.

UTLA, together with Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, received a backlash from parents after announcing plans for a protest to be held outside a public school campus that cohosts charter schools. In response, more than 500 charter school parents signed a letter asking UTLA to cancel the protest, which read, “If these actions are anything like the ones we’ve endured in the past, they will be threatening, disruptive and full of lies.”

UTLA went ahead with the protest, and it also commissioned and funded a study titled “The Cost of Charter Schools to LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District).” The study was released in May 2016 on UTLA’s website with the headline, “LAUSD Loses More Than Half a Billion Dollars to Charter School Growth.”

The California Charter School Association (CCSA) published a response to the UTLA-funded report reminding the Los Angeles Unified leadership of previous fiscal analyses and recommendations provided in 2015 by an independent panel, “which found that charters have little, if anything, to do with the district’s financial struggle.”

LA School Report, an online news site reporting on politics and education in the city, also uncovered an internal LAUSD report discounting the findings of the UTLA study.

Calls Report ‘Bogus’

Larry Sand, president of California Teachers Empowerment Network, says even the school district disagreed with the study’s findings.

“I was quite surprised that the district not only said that essentially the report is bogus, they said [charter schools] actually save money,” Sand said. “Just as importantly, the union did not come back to refute the piece.”

Jim Blew, president of Students First, says the reports the teachers unions produce are constructed to fit their agenda.

“Unions often generate their own reports trying to claim charter schools are not serving all kids, as if our traditional system is,” Blew said. “They like to talk about special education and how charter schools aren’t serving them. Anyone who studies it would see charter schools are serving a lot of special-ed kids and actually do a better job of serving them.”

‘An Enemy to Blame’

Sand says LAUSD is in a difficult situation due to its changing demographics, and it uses charter schools as a scapegoat.

“The [union] has fixed costs that were promised to them by elected officials, and they see that it will be harder and harder to negotiate on behalf of their current teachers because they have so many retired and older teachers that are sucking up the resources,” Sand said. “You have to have an enemy to blame.”

Charter Growth and Success

In 2014, through a comprehensive analysis of LAUSD charter schools, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Educational Outcomes found students in charter schools gained more learning time than their traditional school peers. Graduates of charter schools were found to be 300 percent more likely to have completed classes necessary for college admission than their peers at traditional schools. Latino and African-American students were also found to benefit from opportunities provided by charter schools.

According to data gathered by CCSA, charter school enrollment has steadily increased as traditional public school enrollment has declined.

“The evidence is accumulating that charter schools are working,” Blew said.

Ashley Bateman ([email protected]) writes from Alexandria, Virginia.