Pearls of venom

Pearls of venom

Los Angeles teacher union leader is using the coronavirus crisis as an excuse to trash charter schools.

Due to the coronavirus, many of us are going out of our way to be nice – helping the elderly and infirm, shopping for a family that fears leaving home, limiting ourselves to purchasing just one package of toilet paper, and doing other acts of kindness. Many teachers are working hard, tackling the ins-and-outs of online education, desperately trying to keep their students apace via distance learning. Sadly, though, there are some who are using these trying times to advance their political agenda. And quite prominent in that ugly crowd is Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers of Los Angeles.

In a classic case of “never-let-a-good-crisis-go-to-waste,” Caputo-Pearl ripped off a missive to Los Angeles Unified School District superintendent Austin Beutner and the L.A. school board on March 26th. Incoherently invoking the coronavirus, the union leader is demanding “a moratorium on the approval of any new charter schools” and “that LAUSD halt all new proposed charter co-locations for the 2020-21 school year.” At the very end of the harangue, he gets to his real point. “Los Angeles is already over-saturated with charter schools and loses over $600 million/year in resources to unregulated charter growth. It is time to stop the bleeding and ensure that our existing classrooms and students are appropriately funded and protected.”

Not surprisingly, California Charter Schools Association president Myrna Castrejón fumed at Caputo-Pearl’s epistle, and in a blistering rejoinder, accused him of demeaning charter families instead of showing compassion. “You demanded the eviction of charter students and teachers from the learning space provided to them by voter-approved law when they need your support. And, you resurrected your all-too-familiar demands for a charter school ban. You labeled charter students, families, and staff as unique hazards to public health, stoking perverse and unfounded division.” She went on to describe his tactics as shameful, dangerous, and dehumanizing, using COVID-19 to advance his political agenda.

And that, of course, is exactly what Caputo-Pearl is doing – advancing his anti-charter school agenda…by any means necessary. But as disgusting as his tactics are, this is business as usual for the union boss. Caputo-Pearl tipped his hand in 2016 at a UTLA leadership conference, where he talked about “the unequivocal need for state legislation that addresses inadequate funding and increased regulation of charters, with all of these things, the next year-and-a-half must be founded upon building our capacity to strike, and our capacity to create a state crisis, in early 2018.”

Off by a year, L.A. teachers did in fact strike in January 2019. On the second day of the walkout, Caputo-Pearl’s demonstrators skipped picketing LAUSD headquarters, and instead demonstrated outside the California Charter Schools Association offices. And then, to dot the “i,” the teachers also went to Breed St. Elementary, a school where a charter was trying to co-locate, and shrieked about the evils of privatization.

As is de rigeur for a demagogue, Caputo-Pearl regularly plays it fast and very loose with the facts. His Big Lie regarding charters is that they are taking money from district schools. But as the school district simply explains, “Charter schools do not drain money from public schools, as Los Angeles Unified does not provide teaching services to those students who elect to attend charter schools. Charter schools receive state funding just like any other public school.”

Caputo-Pearl over the years has also lamented that California is nationally near the bottom in per pupil spending. But this is also bogus. In 2016, he claimed that “California hovers around 45th among the 50 states in per-pupil funding.”  But, Mike Antonucci, quoting a National Education Association report, wrote that current expenditures per student (what the state actually spends) results in California being 22nd in the country. Caputo-Pearl continues to bemoan California’s education spending, but the latest available data from the U.S. Census Bureau has California 21st  in the U.S., spending $12,143 per student, which is right at the national average of $12,201 per student. The same report also informs us that L.A. is ranked 7th in per-pupil spending of the nation’s 25 largest school districts (and 11th of the top 50), coming in ahead of Chicago, Houston, Philadelphia, Dallas, et al.

As we struggle with the issues of the day, perhaps getting rid of Caputo-Pearl as UTLA’s leader would help. Well, the good news is that he is termed out come July. The bad news is that Cecily Myart-Cruz, a Caputo-Pearl clone, will be the new capo, with Caputo-Pearl becoming vice-president. Even worse, as Mike Antonucci explains, “The UTLA constitution only limits officers from serving consecutive terms in the same office, leaving the door open for Caputo-Pearl to run for UTLA president again in 2023 or 2026, should he so desire.”

As a search for a coronavirus cure intensifies, a malevolent strain of union leaders like Alex Caputo-Pearl infects our nation daily, alas with no sign of containment in sight.

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Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.

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