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More than 30,000 teachers on strike in Los Angeles

Los Angeles teachers go on strike

About 31,000 teachers, nurses, counselors and librarians took to picket lines on a rainy Monday in Los Angeles, where the nation's second-biggest school system is using substitutes and staff to keep school doors open. 

California Gov. Gavin Newsom last Thursday unveiled a proposed budget that includes additional funding for public education, with the Los Angeles United School District sweetening its contract proposal to the teachers union the next day. The union, however, rejected the offer as insufficient.

With no bargaining done during the weekend, the union called the strike for Monday, its first walkout in nearly 30 years. LAUSD officials said classrooms would remain open for the 480,000 children impacted by the walkout.

About 400 substitutes and 2,000 credentialed district staff are trying to cover for the union members, with a district guide informing parents that "students are expected to attend school every day." The school district has financial incentive to encourage students to come to school, as the bulk of its funding is based on attendance.

Roughly 81 percent of L.A.'s public school students are eligible for free or reduced-price meals, and LAUSD said it continues to serve meals during the walkout.

Some of the more than 30,000 teachers in the Los Angeles public school system hold a rally at City Hall
Some of the more than 30,000 teachers in the Los Angeles public school system hold a rally at City Hall after going on strike in Los Angeles, California, U.S., January 14, 2019. MIKE BLAKE / REUTERS

Why teachers are striking

Negotiations between the union United Teachers Los Angeles and the LAUSD began in early 2017, and union members have been working without a contract for more than a year. 

In addition to higher pay and improved benefits, UTLA is demanding smaller classroom sizes and schools that are "fully staffed" with nurses, counselors and librarians. It wants a full-time nurse in every school, along with more counselors and librarians. 

The union is also looking to cap the growth of privately operated charter schools, which competes for resources with public schools. 

"Even with $1.86 billion [in] reserves, LAUSD says it does not have the money to improve our schools to include lower class sizes, accountability for charter schools and a real reinvestment in school safety, vital staffing and educational programs. Since 2008, the cost of living in L.A. has increased 27 percent yet the district offers stagnant wages and healthcare," the union said in a news release.

School district's position

LAUSD's latest offer builds on previous proposals and would reduce classroom sizes, but not to the extent the union is demanding. It also contends that budget restraints means it must any limit new hiring to one year. It's offering a 6 percent raise over the first two years of a three-year contract, while teachers want 6.5 percent retroactive to a year earlier.

The district, which has sought to limit the negotiations to wages, contends that it already faces possible insolvency in two to three years, even before meeting much of what the union is demanding.

"We did not want a strike, we tried our best to avoid it, and will continue to work around the clock to find a solution to end the strike," LAUSD Superintendent Austin Beutner said in a video posted on the district's website. 

The teachers' demands echo those made by educators in four states that staged mass walkouts in the spring of 2018. Beginning in West Virginia in February and followed soon after by walkouts in Oklahoma, Arizona and North Carolina, teachers were able to rally public support, with lawmakers in some states partially reversing course on years of cutbacks to education.