Sacramento, CA – Senator Ben Allen (D – Santa Monica) released the following statement in response to the strike at the Los Angeles Unified School District:
“LA’s teachers have taken to our streets, braving rain and forgoing pay to express frustration with ever-growing and unacceptably high class sizes and the chronic understaffing of counselors, librarians and nurses in our schools. We need to hear them. I have long believed that public school teachers are underpaid, overworked, and undervalued in our society. It is self-defeating, especially when we consider everything that is at stake for our nation’s future and how much of an impact a strong teacher can have on the lifelong trajectory of a young person. The thousands of teachers taking collective action this week—several of them close personal friends of mine—are placing the vital issue of school funding and the future of public education onto the front burner of our collective consciousness and onto our newspapers’ front pages. It is a vital, compelling, and important message.
“I recognize the impact this strike is having on students, parents, and working families, particularly those in poverty. As a former school board member and someone who has been following the policy debates in this area, I am acutely aware of the financial challenges that LAUSD faces, some of which are being exacerbated by the strike. Being concerned about the long-term financial health of the district doesn’t mean that I don’t feel solidarity with frustrated on-the-line educators who know that in our wealthy and powerful state, things in our public school system simply ought to be better. And my solidarity with those striking and raising their voices doesn’t mean that I don’t understand how difficult it is to balance a school district budget, especially a district with the particular sorts of liabilities that LAUSD faces.
“As the son of a public school teacher, a product of our public schools, a former school board member, and former chair of California’s Senate Education Committee, I have long been devoted to strengthening and properly funding our public schools. I have personally worked on a long list of local and state school funding measures, have been putting particular focus on the issue of proper special education funding, have held hearings on school finance and the structural challenges that districts face, and have advocated for greater allocations of state funds for our public school system. I will continue to do so.
“Indeed, I am at the State Capitol in Sacramento this week, working with legislators, the Governor, and other state leaders and making the case that we need better funding for our schools and that teachers should be getting the resources they need to help their students succeed. I am glad that the Governor’s proposed budget includes record investments in our schools, particularly for districts like LAUSD with high concentrations of poverty. I am encouraged that he is proposing additional resources for high-cost special education services. And I am optimistic about other efforts swirling around the Capitol to find more funding sources in the short-, medium-, and long-term.
“We need more funding; we also need to take a hard look at the LAUSD budget and structure to understand and fix the unique long-term liabilities that are impacting this particular district’s ability to grow, thrive, and feel the confidence to meet the teachers' commendable asks--better pay, lower class size and greater staffing. The LA Times editorial on Sunday delves into this issue, and I encourage people to read it and digest its contents and message. There are innovative ideas swirling that could address some of the long-term liabilities that the district faces with minimal impact on LAUSD students, employees and district retirees. One such idea involves a smart reorganization of the district’s OPEB liabilities in a way that doesn’t cut care offerings but that takes advantage of existing government health care infrastructure under the ACA and Medicare to save the district money—money that could then be used to boost salaries and staffing.
“For the sake of our educators, our students, and our community, I encourage the parties to get down to the hard work of hammering out at least a temporary agreement. I commend intervention by the Governor, the Mayor of Los Angeles and other high-level stakeholders to help with that process. A temporary, provisional agreement could get students and teachers back into classrooms while buying the district, union, and state more time to figure out a longer-term deal that will meet both sides' core concerns.”
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Senator Allen represents the Westside, Hollywood and South Bay communities of Los Angeles County. Follow him on FB/@BenAllenCalifornia; TW/BenAllenCA; and Instagram/@BenAllenCA.