Public education is the only hope for our children to come out of 12 years of schooling with an understanding of equality, democracy and the proficiency and confidence they’ll need to face a future that is anything but secure and stable. Children in Los Angeles, probably more than elsewhere, enter the school system with a multitude of needs in addition to the challenges of educating a new generation. Our population includes children of many cultures, abilities, languages, poverty, special educational needs, homelessness, and of course interests. And that is the reason for public education, because our whole community has a special interest in meeting the needs of the entire community. As socialists, we believe education is a basic right and basic service owed to all children by our society, and should be free, of high quality, and adequately funded to be successful.
Taxpayers passed Proposition 13 in 1978, which summarily stripped school boards and other local authorities of taxation power to ensure adequate resources to fund schools. In the recent period there has been a move towards privatization of education. Sometimes fully private. Sometimes profit-driven. Sometimes public-private charter schools that may also be profit-driven. All are so-called “education alternatives” and operate by different standards. They are not obliged to employ credentialed teachers, provide the full range of educational services, adhere to the same requirements of public schools, or grapple with how to meet the special needs of a students. This legalized privatization under the guise of public school operation has led to any number of manipulations in order to usher in more and more privateering and divert more and more monies away from public schools. The rationale for these “alternatives” is that the public schools are not effective. But these “alternatives” and public policies are the exact reason effectiveness has been compromised. INADEQUATE and DIVERTED funding.
Public education can only be successful if there is adequate funding. If we starve and drain public education of funding and resources, we are setting the stage for failure. Public education in California today ranks 43 out of 50 states in per-pupil spending. 50 years ago California schools ranked near the top. Austerity policies that deprive public services in favor of private for-profit investments is the enemy of our students, our community and the working class.
The ongoing assault on public education by the capitalist class is on full display in the contract negotiations between teachers represented by United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) and Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) new superintendent Austin Beutner. The new superintendent, chosen by the charter school-friendly majority on the school board, hails from the world of investment banking and comes with no previous experience in public education. Given the current composition of the school board, installing Beutner to lead the district is a clear signal that the growth of poorly regulated charters and the push for greater privatization will continue unabated if their efforts remain unopposed.
Since assuming the role of superintendent, Beutner has used the familiar capitalist neoliberal refrains calling for less bureaucracy and greater efficiency in the system. To those of us on the left who view education as a public good that should be protected, we are concerned about the resulting harm that will impact our communities. LAUSD schools are already facing historic shortages of vital staff, yet the new superintendent is talking about measuring teacher efficiency and has questioned the legitimacy of the tenure system, one of the few protections afforded to the working class in education. Assigning a priori responsibility to educators for the poor state of Los Angeles’s schools ignores the lack of resources available to public schools. In the wake of the Supreme Court Janus decision, Beutner’s rhetoric is alarming considering the concerted efforts across industries to weaken unions.
As LAUSD teachers face increasing numbers of student in the classroom accompanied by decreasing resources and the other necessary components of good education (arts, counseling, nursing, etc) L.A. schools will continue to do poorly. Good Public Education requires realistic support and valuing educators if it is to be successful.
Democratic Socialists of America-Los Angeles stands in solidarity with UTLA, along with its students and parents, in its fight for quality public education for all and a livable wage for educators. The December 15, 2018 March for Public Education in Los Angeles is part of a struggle going on around the country to reassert the importance of Public Education and with it, the importance of educators and all who work each day to to meet the needs of all children in the schools.