Los Angeles’s Teachers’ Union Is Out of Control

Sonia Vasquez, 39, and her daughter Angelique Sepulveda, 4, leave a back-to-school clinic for coronavirus testing, vaccines, and free backpacks, in Los Angeles, Calif., August 12, 2021. (Lucy Nicholson/Reuters)
Thankfully, a pair of statewide ballot initiatives would allow parents to fight back.

When they show you who they are, believe them. Teachers’ unions have shown their true colors over the past 18 months by consistently prioritizing their own interests over the needs of families — and some of them are so drunk on power that they can’t seem to stop.

Last year, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) gave away the game in its report on safely reopening schools, which was packed with unrelated political demands such as a wealth tax, Medicare for All, police-free schools, and a ban on charter schools. And the union doesn’t appear to have learned from the ensuing public-relations disaster, judging from an exclusive interview its president, Cecily Myart-Cruz, recently gave to Los Angeles magazine.

In the interview, conducted after more than a year in which Los Angeles public schools have been closed to in-person instruction, Myart-Cruz insisted that “there is no such thing as learning loss.” Even if it weren’t wholly inaccurate, that claim would be awfully self-serving, given that UTLA and other teachers’ unions are largely responsible for that year-plus of shuttered schools. And one must ask oneself: If it were accurate, what would that say about the quality of in-person education provided by those schools when they’re open?

Of course, though, they aren’t open, and teachers’ unions are still refusing to commit to rectifying that problem — according to Los Angeles’s interviewer, “nothing [Myart-Cruz] said during our interview would have done much to allay” parents’ “concerns” about continued remote instruction. UTLA has, however, called for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for all eligible students, as well as stricter quarantine rules.

The chaos of the past 18 months has been very profitable for the public-school monopoly. Teachers’ unions can hold children’s educations hostage and leverage the resulting disorder to lobby for additional resources from taxpayers as a precondition of returning to normalcy. The Los Angeles Board of Education already approved a $20 billion budget for this school year, which equates to about $26,255 per student — a whopping 69 percent increase from the $15,630 Los Angeles spent per student just two years ago.

Where is all the money going? Despite losing thousands of students each year, district officials have laid out a plan to increase the number of teachers in the system by 8 percent, the number of custodial workers by 25 percent, and the number of psychologists and psychiatric social workers by 80 percent. It should go without saying that putting more employees in the system is great for UTLA: It means more dues-paying members and more political clout.

And what if you don’t like that you must pay tons of money for your kids to languish receiving subpar remote instruction from your local public school? Well, apparently that’s just too bad, because the almighty union is in control and faces no real accountability. As Myart-Cruz put it to Los Angeles, “You can recall the Governor. You can recall the school board. But how are you going to recall me?”

Myart-Cruz is right that parents will be stuck with her as UTLA president for as long as the union’s members continue to support her. But she’s wrong to imply that the upcoming California gubernatorial-recall election won’t have any effect on education policy in the state.

If Newsom is successfully recalled, the leading Republican candidate, school-choice supporter Larry Elder, will have the best shot at becoming the state’s new governor according to polls. And as governor, Mr. Elder would have a few ways of advancing the cause of educational freedom. Though he would have little influence over bills moving through the state’s deep-blue, union-controlled legislature, he could use the bully pulpit to take on the unions. And he could put the full powers of incumbency behind two statewide ballot initiatives that would fund students instead of school systems in the state, allowing all families to take their children’s taxpayer-funded education dollars to the education provider of their choosing.

The main problem with K–12 education is the massive power imbalance between the teachers’ unions and individual families. This power dynamic has gotten so lopsided in Los Angeles that the unions feel comfortable rubbing it in families’ faces. Funding students directly would level the playing field, empowering parents to vote with their feet — and finally force public schools to cater to the needs of students and their families as they should.

Corey DeAngelis is the national director of research at the American Federation for Children, an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute, and a senior fellow at the Reason Foundation.


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