August 12, 2017
Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of the United Teachers Los Angeles, hasn’t learned anything from the trouncing of union-backed candidates in the Los Angeles Unified school board races this year. Speaking at UTLA’s annual conference July 28, Caputo-Pearl made clear the teachers union will continue to fight school choice and push for new taxes on L.A. residents.
In May, voters elected newcomers Kelly Gonez and Nick Melvoin to the LAUSD school board, giving the nation’s second-largest school district its first pro-charter majority.
Despite repeated efforts by UTLA to smear Gonez and Melvoin as puppets of the so-called Trump/DeVos agenda, voters made clear their support for school choice and board members untethered to the narrow ideological and financial interests of the union.
The UTLA has tried to delegitimize the election by claiming, as they did the day after the election, “The billionaires bought this election.”
As out-of-touch an approach as it is, Caputo-Pearl remained committed to this narrative in his July 28 speech, asserting, “The billionaires buying the school board races was the second punch in their counter-attack,” against teachers unions.
He cited $27 million that six pro-charter political action committees spent influencing elections last year as evidence of billionaire influence. While it is true that charter school proponents have begun to spend heavily in elections, Caputo-Pearl conveniently left out that teachers unions also spent big, as they’ve done for a long time.
Last year, the California Teachers Association’s Issues PAC alone made over $23 million in political contributions. CTA, of which UTLA is an affiliate, made an additional $4.6 million in contributions through other PACs, while the California Federation of Teachers contributed $3 million.
This is merely a continuation of a trend going back many years. In the first decade of the 2000s, CTA alone spent over $200 million on campaigns and lobbying.
Contrary to the wishes of the teachers unions, it turns out not everyone is pleased with the way California’s education policies have turned out.
After years of substandard educational outcomes from traditional public schools, where bad teachers are shielded from accountability and for whatever reason receive tenure, it turns out people like having choices.
With vouchers off the table, for now, despite 60 percent of respondents to an April survey of the Public Policy Institute of California favoring them, charter schools are a fast growing alternative to traditional schools.
The results speak for themselves. Studies from the Stanford-based Center for Research on Education Outcomes and the University of California, Berkeley have found that students in Los Angeles charter schools experience greater achievement gains than students in traditional public schools.
Yet in all this, Caputo-Pearl just sees “billionaires buying the school board races.”
Caputo-Pearl also seemed especially bothered by the defeat of Steve Zimmer, the union-backed school board president whose defeat he attributed to “the billionaires … vigorously suppress[ing] the vote among working-class people,” apparently by pointing out all the faults in Zimmer’s record.
Zimmer was voted out for good reason. His solution to low graduation rates in LAUSD was to lower the standards for graduating, diminishing the value of a diploma for years to come. And just weeks before election day, he voted to put union interests before the interests of students and voted with other union-favored school board members to throw the district’s support behind anti-charter bills in Sacramento.
Refusing to acknowledge any of this, Caputo-Pearl instead argued Zimmer’s loss was just “yet another reminder that the war over public schools is a class war.” Considering L.A. charter students in poverty perform significantly better than their counterparts in traditional schools, it is more likely working-class people aren’t the pawns Caputo-Pearl wants them to be.
After more faux progressive rambling about sinister billionaires and backing moratoriums on charters, Caputo-Pearl got to his real interest: money.
Facing a deficit of $422 million in 2019-20, the district isn’t in a position to be especially generous to the union.
Caputo-Pearl’s solution: “We must shake everything we can out of the district financially to meet our priorities,” “going after” the district’s reserves, raise commercial property taxes and explore a new income tax on millionaires in L.A. County. And, of course, blame charter schools for dwindling resources.
Caputo-Pearl and the UTLA envision a district where school choice is limited to what the union tolerates and where policy and budgeting decisions are made to benefit the union first and foremost.
Taxpayers, parents and teachers who value fiscal responsibility, accountability and choice should be wary of continued union efforts to undermine choice and raise taxes.
Sal Rodriguez may be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org