UTLA is not celebrating National School Choice Week

By Larry Sand
January 22, 2019

The Los Angeles teachers union puts charter schools at the center of its vitriol.

Now in its second week, it looks as if the Los Angeles teachers strike may be about to end. The issues have been argued ad infinitum – higher pay, smaller class-size, more nurses, etc. But along the way, the United Teachers of Los Angeles identified another enemy, perhaps even bigger than LA School Superintendent Austin Beutner: charter schools. On January 15th, the second day of the walkout, the teachers union took their picketing to the California Charter School Association building in Los Angeles.

For some time now, UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl has been railing against charters –publicly funded, privately run schools of choice – which primarily benefit poor and minority kids. He claims he wants those schools to be “held accountable,” but ultimately what he is really after is an immediate cap on new charters. Caputo-Pearl has been eyeing California’s governor Gavin Newsom as an ally in his quest, but so far the governor has only been stressing “charter transparency.”

Caputo-Pearl and other unionistas want to cap charters simply because most of them are not unionized. He will not admit that, of course, but instead alleges that they are “unregulated” and “siphon our money” as lame reasons for stifling their growth. The union, which insists it’s devoted to “the children,” is anything but in their corner – most studies show that charters tend do a better job of educating our children than traditional public schools.

For example, Stanford University’s Center for Research on Education Outcomes (CREDO) issued the results of a study in 2014 that showed charter school students in Los Angeles receive the equivalent of about 50 more days of learning in reading and 79 days of math than students in traditional public schools.

Another rallying cry for Caputo-Pearl is that charter schools are a plot by greedy, corporatizing billionaires who want to privatize education as a way to fill their pockets. Now it is true that private money does help some charters pay the bills, but this is necessary as they are funded nowhere near the level that traditional public schools are. A recent study from Patrick Wolf et al at the University of Arkansas showed that in 15 large American cities, charters are funded at 5 to 49 percent less than traditional public schools. Los Angeles charters come down in the middle of the pack, receiving only 73 percent of the funding of district schools.

Alex Caputo-Pearl’s act is so tawdry that even the typically education establishment cheerleading Washington Post excoriated his union. The headline in a recent editorial asked, “Why does the L.A. teachers union want to limit the options for poor children?” Its final line declared, “Depriving poor children of public-school options does not strike us as a progressive value.”

WaPo is correct. It’s not a progressive value…or a conservative one, for that matter. It is simply about a ruinous government-union monopoly that has accumulated way too much power.

As for the teachers who blindly follow their union boss and his rancorous rants, they would do well to examine the facts. Corey DeAngelis, an education policy analyst at the Cato Institute, writes that scientific evidence overwhelmingly supports the theory that school choice is good for public school teachers. He notes that, “according to all five of the studies that exist on the topic, labor market competition introduced by public and private school choice increases salaries for teachers in traditional public schools. For example, a peer-reviewed study published in the Journal of Public Economics finds that charter school competition increases teacher salaries by about 3.4 percent in difficult-to-staff public schools. None of the studies find negative effects of school choice competition on teacher salaries.”

Teachers in Los Angeles have a choice. They can embrace charter schools and show that they are truly interested in furthering the needs of children – all the while saving the taxpayer money, and possibly earning more money for themselves. Or they can listen to their self-serving union leader when he grouses, “We’re here today because it’s time to invest in our existing schools. We must do this instead of continuing the unsustainable, destructive practice of unregulated charter school growth.”

As we are in the middle of National School Choice Week, this is the perfect time for teachers to do a little investigating, and decide these critical issues for themselves.

* * *

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.

MORE GREAT ARTICLES