When teachers from the largest school district in America walked off the job this week, they were not campaigning for wages: rather, they were demanding smaller classes; more librarians, counselors, aides and special-ed teachers; and to rein in the Charter school movement, and that last demand is the key to understanding the whole thing.
Charter schools were developed in the wake of the Brown v Board of Ed decision, which found that racially segregated public schools were illegal; charter schools let white supremecists skirt the decision by diverting public funds into private schools that could exclude Black children.
Today, the charter school movement has evolved into a darling of billionaires and vast, illegal dark-money pools, working in alliance with racists and Christian Dominionists who want Biblical doctrine taught at public expense. Like the Reagan coalition, the fundamentalists supply the warm bodies, the billionaires supply the seed capital, and then the billionaires make out like bandits while the poor evangelical rank-and-file get screwed.
But even if you want to send your kid to a public school, charter schools can make it impossible to make such a choice. Charter schools can cream off the kids with wealthy parents, high test scores and no special needs, sucking money out of the public system, which still has the same per-pupil funding that has to stretch farther to cover fixed costs (just because your students leave, it doesn't make your school cheaper to heat or maintain).
The results is that schools end up raiding the per-pupil educational budget to cover fixed costs, leaving the public system with a disproportionate fraction of kids who need extra support, and less money per pupil to pay for it. So many parents who want to support the public system still put their kids in charters to avoid this mess, making it even worse.
That's why the LA teachers are on strike: to stop the stealth privatization of our public schools and ensure that every kid gets the education they're entitled to.
Charter schools in Los Angeles have become integral features of what’s wrong. There are 277 charter schools operating in L.A. Unified, the largest number of charter schools of any school district in the nation. Charters serve nearly 119,000 students, nearly one-fifth of the students in the district. About 50 charters are operated by the district, which gives them some degree of greater autonomy, but the rest are completely independent of district rules and regulations. And many of the independent charters are also co-located on existing public school campuses.
When charter schools pull funding from a public school, it damages the school’s abilityto educate the students who remain because a lot of the school’s costs are “fixed” and can’t be reduced on a per-pupil basis. Schools that find they have to cover the same costs, with reduced revenues due to student attrition to charters, frequently resort to cutting non-teacher personnel such as counselors and librarians—exactly the additional staff LA teachers are saying their schools lack.
In the situation where a charter co-locates on an existing public school campus, space on the campus is divided up between the two schools, which increases class sizes as student remaining in the public campus have to jam into smaller spaces and limit their access to common spaces—again, grievances the teachers are bringing to the table.
“It’s a vicious cycle,” writes Miriam Pawel in the New York Times. “The more overcrowded and burdened the regular schools, the easier for charters to recruit students. The more students the district loses, the less money, and the worse its finances. The more the district gives charters space in traditional schools, the more overcrowded the regular classrooms.”
How Teacher Strikes Are Exposing the Corrupt Charter School Agenda [Jeff Bryant/Naked Capitalism]