April 23, 2019President's Perspective
Above, Alex with Jackie Goldberg (second from left), kicking off a day of precinct walking. Electing Jackie on May 14 will put a powerful pro-public education voice on the school board.
Shifting the status quo funding narrative
If we win on June 4, it will be the biggest victory of the strike.
I started teaching in 1990, in a third-grade classroom at Anderson Elementary in Compton. It wasn’t too long into the school year that I had to look into the eyes of my students — wonderful young people whom I remember vividly, like Nicole Toussaint and Johnny Bermudez — and try to explain why there wasn’t enough money to provide them with lower class sizes and more personalized attention, more music and arts, more staff to help them with other issues, more materials, and so on.
We’ve spent our careers explaining that public education is chronically underfunded. Enough is enough. For the first time in my career, and in yours, we are on offense against under-funding. Measure EE, on the local ballot on June 4, is our groundbreaking vehicle that would bring $500 million in new ongoing money to our schools.
Measure EE is different from state Props. 30 and 55. While they were essential, they were primarily about maintaining the status quo and avoiding even more abysmal underfunding. Measure EE, which we brought onto the ballot through our strike, is, for the first time in my almost-30-year career in education, a move towards more absolute money in our classrooms and schools — smashing through the status quo, not just maintaining it.
Our strike was the game-changer on school funding
Your vibrant picket lines in the rain, showing an overwhelming commitment to public education, created the Measure EE breakthrough. Our strike defeated a decades-entrenched and billionaire-driven narrative that education’s problems were because of “bad” teachers and “bad” schools, and that increased funding would NOT make a difference.
Our strike shifted that to a narrative based on reality: School underfunding is shameful and we all need to do something about it.
Our strike made economic facts roll off parents’ and reporters’ tongues — California is the richest state in the country, but 44th out of 50 among the states in per-pupil funding.
Our strike won a pathway to success for our neighborhood district schools: class size reduction, more HHS staff, less testing, and other critical wins. We won an investment in that pathway through the reserve.
But, the reserve is one-time money. To continue down our new pathway for years to come — improving our schools even more, and battling privatization — we need ongoing annual revenue.
Our strike made increased annual revenue a real possibility. A broad coalition, including UTLA, LAUSD, Mayor Garcetti, the City Council, and SEIU, put EE on the ballot.
Just as with the strike, we need every single one of our members not just on board with EE, but passionately campaigning for it. In my aggressive schedule of school visits, I see the beginnings of member involvement in EE, but we need far more NOW.
Above, Alex with Mariachi UTLA members Leticia Callela Austin (El Sereno MS) and Zada Mendoza (Southeast HS) during the strike. “Our strike awakened the activist in me,” Mendoza says, and now she’s channeling that spark toward future actions.
- Southeast High School: UTLA member and fantastic mariachi player during the strike, Zada Mendoza, said,
“Our strike awakened the activist in me. That part of me had been asleep. I was inspired and I’m not going to let my activism go to sleep again.”
Every single one of us, whether we live within LAUSD boundaries and can vote on EE or not, must be activists for EE in the same way we were activists on the picket lines.
- Drew Middle School: UTLA member Morgan Brunelle said,
“Our strike raised the school funding issue up like I haven’t seen before, at both the local and national level.”
Morgan is right. But, we can’t risk the political winds shifting and taking us away from the focus on school funding. Measure EE lets us move quickly, while the opportunity is here.
- 122nd Street Elementary: UTLA member Noemi Kurtz said,
“Our strike proved to the public that we will fight for great public schools, not just wish for great public schools.”
We need to take exactly that willingness to fight, with shoes on the pavement and fingers on social media to the Measure EE campaign.
My conversations at schools about Measure EE
I am very fortunate to be in conversation with so many of you through school visits.
Between now and June 4, one focal point of my visits is hearing your reflections on the strike and new contract. The other is engaging you on the vital importance of EE, and EE’s crucial connection to getting Jackie Goldberg elected on May 14, and to our other priorities.
These are the most common questions that I engage at schools, and my responses:
- How do we make sure that the district is accountable in how it spends EE money? There has never been a silver bullet for accountability — not with Prop. 30, 55, or other monies. That said, we have tremendous strength to hold the district accountable on EE. First, we have tight ballot language directly stating monies go to recruiting and retaining educators, class-size reduction, increases in HHS staffing, and so on. Second, there will be annual audits. Third, there will be an oversight committee. Last, and most important, we will organize publicly, with a broad coalition including the mayor, to keep the district accountable.
- Why are we pushing Measure EE when it will cut into the raise we just won? Please ask any member who puts this question forward to do the math. Many of our members are renters. They will pay nothing on EE. For those of our members who own homes within LAUSD boundaries, they will pay a tiny fraction of their raise on this parcel tax — and it is a darn good investment to do that. The average homeowner will pay less than $240 per year for EE; compare that to the average raise that our members received in the strike settlement, which is more than $4,000 per year. Moreover, passing EE will be an absolutely essential game-changer in fighting for future raises, class-size reduction, and more.
- Is there any opposition to EE and will it be difficult to pass? This is going to be a war and we need every single one of us involved — a point made even stronger by the fact that we need two-thirds of the vote to win on EE. Three of the major business associations in LA have come out against EE and are raising money to defeat it. While they say they are concerned about homeowners, the reality of their opposition is obvious: This is a per-square-foot parcel tax that gathers over 70% of the $500 million from businesses, mostly big businesses, many of whom have been shirking responsibility for public education for years. Only 18% of the $500 million comes from homeowners — an investment well worth it when it leverages hundreds of millions of dollars from big business, and when it results in funding the priorities of our strike that were supported overwhelmingly by parents. The business associations who are opposing have hired the same lobbyists as the cigarette industry.
- Will money from Measure EE go to independent charter schools? Yes, in the same way that a portion of the monies from other efforts we campaigned for, Prop. 30 and Prop. 55, went to charter schools. There is no legal way to prevent charter schools from getting a share of the monies proportionate to their share of enrollment, which is about 17%. This is why our fight has always been two-pronged: fighting for more funding while simultaneously fighting to cap charter school growth, as our strike has now put on the table with Sacramento legislation. But, make no mistake: If we want to stop unregulated charter growth, we must get more money to our district neighborhood schools so that they are attractive places for parents to send their children. That money is EE.
- I don’t live within LAUSD boundaries, so I won’t be able to vote on EE. What should I do? To win this essential campaign, we need every single one of our members involved and leading. If you don’t live within LAUSD boundaries and can’t vote on EE, please do the following: 1. Help your chapter chair circulate the EE support petition, which we need filled out by all UTLA members and turned back in to UTLA ASAP; 2. ensure that every single member at your school is registered to vote (if someone isn’t, help them go to www.lavote.net), whether they live within LAUSD boundaries or not, because there are plenty of critical elections at all levels coming up; and 3. on the EE support petition, sign up immediately to volunteer in the EE campaign, and do the work when we get in touch with you, whether text-banking, precinct-walking, or another action.
- What happens if Measure EE fails? Our strike forced LAUSD to tap into its reserves to fund lower class size and other improvements for students. If LAUSD does not get additional revenue once that one-time money is gone, we can expect layoffs, attacks to our healthcare, and the threat of school closures.
- My principal and others are starting to talk about EE. Should we be working together on this? Absolutely yes. We struggle with the district when we need to, but when LAUSD is on the right side of an issue, we proactively, positively, and aggressively work together. Remember, this is a once-in-a-career opportunity for local funding.
Measure EE, Jackie Goldberg, contract implementation, and charter legislation
Measure EE powers every other aspect of our spring action plan.
We absolutely must elect Jackie Goldberg to the school board on May 14, three weeks before the EE election. If EE fails, we can expect that those who want to attack our healthcare will feel more empowered to do so as we head toward our healthcare agreement’s December 2020 expiration. We don’t want Jackie’s tenure on the school board defined by these kinds of defensive struggles. We want Jackie in a position where EE has passed, with the ability to go on offense — to use her incredible experience as a teacher, a trainer of teachers, and an elected school board, city council, and state assembly member to help guide EE monies in a way that invests in the long-term sustainability of the district.
Implementation of our new contract is a crucial part of the spring action plan. Passing Measure EE and having $500 million additional money at play will be a game-changer for this process. It will allow for longer-term and more solid planning on all of the financial aspects of our agreement: class-size reduction, nurses in every school, more counselors, more librarians, and our other wins. Passing Measure EE will let us more solidly plan for the first round of reopener bargaining, just months away in January 2020, as we think about additional pay increases, further class-size reduction, special education, additional health and human services positions, and other resources for our students.
Getting charter legislation passed in Sacramento — legislation spurred by our strike — is a crucial part of the spring action plan. Measure EE is foundational to this struggle. The charter industry has insidiously used the lack of funding for our schools as a rationalization for more “choice” through unregulated charter growth. The more we fund our schools through measures like EE, the more we take that unethical and cynical argument away from the industry.
Passing Measure EE powers the broader social movement we need
More than two years ago, we began popularizing the fact that California was 44th out of 50 states in per-pupil funding, and we initiated the 20 by 20 campaign for $20,000 per pupil by the year 2020. Measure EE is a crucial step forward in the 20 by 20 campaign. But, as we’ve said from the beginning, California is so far behind that it will take multiple wins to get us close to the $20,000, which other states already spend per-pupil.
This is why we are so excited that EE not only brings desperately needed money to our schools quickly (starting January 2020 if it passes), but that it also lays the groundwork for the next steps in the 20 by 20 campaign. Specifically, the field program for EE is being run by California Calls, the organization behind the Schools and Communities First initiative which will be on the November 2020 ballot statewide and which will close the corporate loophole in Prop 13. Building those relationships through EE will be crucial for SCF.
I hope you had a restful and well-deserved spring break. Now, let’s push to the finish line of this historic school year, with everyone bringing the passion that Morgan, Noemi, and Zada spoke of to the EE campaign, to Jackie Goldberg, and to our other priorities.
This is a once-in-a-career moment for local school funding and building our movement. Let’s sprint, win on May 14, sprint some more, win on June 4 and then have a great rest starting in mid-June. Let’s do this.
Thank you for your tremendous work with students. It is an honor to work with you.