30,000 teachers have gone on strike today in the second-largest school district in the US.
Members of United Teachers Los Angeles are seeking a 6.5% pay rise, as well as more librarians, counsellors and nurses on school campuses, smaller class sizes and less testing, and a moratorium on new charter schools (publicly funded private schools). The union has highlighted that the school district has a $1.8bn budget reserve.
The district stretches 720 square miles and is overwhelmingly low income, with 82% of its 500,000 students qualifying for free or reduced-price lunch. About one-fifth of all students in the district are English-language learners.
Although it is the district’s first teacher strike in 30 years, the LA strike follows a busy year in the US education sector, with industrial action taken in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Arizona, Kentucky, North Carolina, Colorado, as well as Washington state and Chicago.
Unlike the earlier wave of industrial action, which took place in conservative states with weak unions, teachers in California have high union density, are in a state where public sector strikes are legal, and the investment-banker-turned-school-superintendent Austin Beutner is a liberal and a Democratic Party supporter.
Having been in negotiations with the school district since April 2017, in August last year 98% of union members balloted in favour of a wide-scale strike. The strike was meant to go ahead last Thursday but was delayed when the district went to federal court to stop the strike. The court threw out the request and the strike went ahead on Monday.
The school district has hired 400 substitute teachers and reassigned 2,000 administrators to undermine the strike.