WATCH THE VIDEO: State of the Union 2019

By Joshua Pechthalt, CFT President

As the school year begins to wind down, our work ramps up. CFT is joining other education unions to push hard to enact bills calling for more charter school transparency and accountability, bringing the decision-making on charter authorization exclusively to the district level, and more ambitiously, enacting a moratorium on all new charters. As Los Angeles state Sen. Maria Elena Durazo, the author of the moratorium bill explains, it’s time we put a “pause” on new charters.The effort to bring reform to charters importantly parallels the AFT Fund Our Future campaign that is investing in education.

It’s important to keep in mind that the growth of charters, in part, reflects a perceived failure of in-district schools. As funding has failed to keep up with the needs of our schools and our students, as K-12 classes bulge, as districts eliminate art and music and narrow the curriculum, as counseling loads balloon, many parents turn to neighborhood charter schools. These schools often provide safe campuses and enrichment programs in attractive settings.

That’s why it’s essential that while we critique the privatizers and corporate charter school forces, and push for much-needed legislation, we must at the same time fight for the schools our students deserve and the funding needed to make our schools successful.

We’ve been able to move our charter school agenda because of a multi-faceted effort, both at the ballot box and in the streets. The Democratic sweep last November certainly helped create a potentially sympathetic Legislature. But the California Legislature was controlled by the Democrats in the previous session and charter reform got nowhere.

This time, charter reform in the California Legislature and locally is a possibility. One of the most noticeable examples is the Los Angeles Unified School District. The majority of the board members and the superintendent were backed by the charter association and, as you would expect, they have been sympathetic to charter expansion. Yet, that very same board and superintendent are now supporting efforts to seek a statewide moratorium on charter school expansion. 

What created that political turnaround was the mass actions of educators with the overwhelming support of parents, community and students. Beginning last year with the teacher strikes in red states and continuing with the strikes in Los Angeles and around the country, there is growing awareness of the impact of charters and the need to dramatically increase public school funding.

We must continue with these mobilizations. Actions in the street will strengthen our efforts on the legislative front and continue to educate millions of Americans and politicians.

The fight for public education, as well as healthcare, also has the potential to cross ideological divides. Whatever the political perspective of the parent, they want the best for their child. Parents know that to achieve lower class size, more counselors or enrichment programs, schools will need more money and resources, particularly if there is an effort to educate the public as happened so successfully in Los Angeles.

Through organizing and a brilliant community education campaign, United Teachers Los Angeles was able to win over the vast majority of residents in L.A. County. In a poll conducted by Loyola Marymount University, 80 percent of residents supported teachers during the strike. And this happened in spite of efforts by the district and media to portray students as the victims of the strike.

We should never fall for that notion. Students learn a great deal from a strike. They learn that when workers want to improve their conditions, they don’t throw rocks or destroy property, they withhold their labor. It is one of the most important lessons they can learn and, unfortunately, it has become a rarity in American society.

The fight for charter school reform must illuminate inadequate educational funding. Charters siphon money away from in-district schools, so while charters become more numerous, the majority of in-district schools and the students who attend them are hurt. This can’t continue.

Let me end with a hopeful note. California and the CFT have been leaders in the struggle to increase education funding by implementing progressive tax reform. We now have the possibility to raise funding for education dramatically and turn around the negative effects of Proposition 13 by getting legacy corporations to pay their fair share in property taxes.

The Schools and Communities First initiative on the November 2020 ballot will do just that. But it won’t be easy. CFT members must be involved in the campaign if we are to win. Passage of this initiative will be a magnificent legacy to leave our students and children.