There has been great debate over whether or not students should be sent back to in-person classes beginning next fall. Americans seem rather divided on the issue, but the United Teachers Los Angeles – the LA teachers union – has a few demands before they will even consider heading back to the classroom.
"No matter the scenario in August, it’s clear that it will not be a 'normal' school year. But when 'normal' means deep race and class fissures that result in increased infection and death rates in Black, Brown, and high-poverty communities; when 'normal' means increasing police budgets even as schools, libraries, and public health face catastrophic cuts; when 'normal' means corporations receiving trillions in bailout funds as federal commitments to support special education and high-poverty students remain unfulfilled; when 'normal' means working families lining up for miles for food banks while US billionaires increased their wealth by over $584 billion — it is clear that going back to normal is not an option. This crisis presents an opportunity to create a new normal that supports all students," the union said in their demand document.
These are what the union is demanding from every level of government (emphasis mine):
Demands from the federal government:
1. Federal Bailout: Although the CARES and HEROES Acts provided funding for K-12, both fell far short of what would be needed to rescue districts and state and local governments. And as of publication, no money has been dedicated to address the specific needs of students with disabilities, which in LAUSD annually requires nearly $1 billion in general fund transfers due to the federal government’s failure to meet its IDEA funding promise. Many experts are calling for at least $500 billion in
2. Fully Fund Title I: Congress has perpetually underfunded Title I, ignoring the growth in student enrollment, the increasing costs of education, and the reality that schools have become the de facto centers of their respective communities. In California, specifically, last year the Title I funding gap was $3,400 per Title I eligible student — the largest gap in the nation. This funding is foundational to meeting the needs of our students, and Title I was persistently underfunded well before the pandemic. Congress must appropriate substantial emergency and ongoing resources through the Title I program if we are to have a solid floor in which to provide education during and after the pandemic.
3. Fully Fund IDEA: Since the passage of the Individuals With Disabilities Education (IDEA) Act in 1975, Congress has never come close to allocating the 40% funding promised to ensure a free and appropriate public education for students with disabilities. Instead, funding has consistently hovered around 16%. In early May, 25 senators wrote a letter voicing their support for IDEA’s full implementation at this time in conjunction with an additional appropriation of $12 billion in IDEA funding to ensure school districts across the country are able to meet the needs of students with disabilities. To date, that letter has been entirely ignored by the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, and no such funding has been officially proposed or discussed in the Senate.
4. Medicare for All: Coronavirus shows definitively why we need Medicare For All. People fearful of crippling medical bills avoid seeking testing and treatment, leading to undetected COVID-19 cases and a likely increase in death rates thanks to people delaying medical care until they reach a critical condition. The boundless greed of the for-profit health industry, combined with this country’s deeply ingrained racism, has led to race-based health disparities that have resulted in excess deaths especially among Black communities long before the pandemic further widened the health gap. That same greed has resulted in Gilead Sciences pricing a five-day course of Remdesivir at $3,120 — despite having received $70.5 million in public funding for the development of the coronavirus drug.
Demands of the state of California:
1. The California Schools and Local Communities Funding Act of 2020, aka Schools and Communities First: This proposition on the November 2020 ballot will increase funding to education and local government by reassessing property tax of commercial and industrial properties valued at $3 million or more from 1978 assessments to current assessment values. Projected to add $7.5 billion to $12 billion a year with 40% allocated to schools and 60% added to local governments.
2. Wealth Tax: A new tax on unrealized capital gains to California billionaires only, 1% a year until capital gains taxes are met. This would generate an estimated $10 billion a year initially
3. Millionaire Tax: Add a 1% surtax on incomes over $1 million a year, and 3% for over $3 million a year. This would generate an estimated $4.5 billion-plus a year
Demands on the local level:
1. Defund Police: Police violence is a leading cause of death and trauma for Black people, and is a serious public health and moral issue. We must shift the astronomical amount of money devoted to policing, to education and other essential needs such as housing and public health.
2. Housing Security: There is no “safer at home” for those who do not have a home. Students need stability, and cities have the power to pass ordinances to prevent evictions and provide rental relief funds. Instead of just one-time relief, as was passed by the LA City Council in June 2020, housing can be a human right assisted by the state. Additionally, as Project Roomkey has demonstrated, sheltering the homeless community is a matter of political will, not scarce resources. Over 15,000 homeless students in LAUSD need permanent shelter.
3. Paid Sick Leave: Parents should not have to decide between staying home with a sick child or going to work in order to be paid. All cities in LAUSD’s boundaries should follow LA City Council’s lead and require ten additional sick days, and expand those sick days to require it of all businesses.
4. Charter Moratorium: Privately operated, publicly funded charter schools drain resources from district schools — and many have “double-dipped” during this crisis by taking federal small business bailout loans even though state funding did not decline this school year. In addition, colocation adds students to campuses when we need to reduce the number of students to allow for physical distancing.
5. Financial Support for Undocumented Students and Families: California’s more than 2 million undocumented residents are by and large ineligible for state and federal benefits. Even if their children are US citizens, in the era of ICE raids and mass deportations, many undocumented parents are too fearful to apply for benefits for their children. California undocumented immigrants disproportionately pay taxes without benefits, paying an estimated $4.5 billion in federal taxes and $2.5 billion in California state taxes in 2018. Immigrant students and workers, so vital to our schools and our economy, must be supported during this crisis.
Things like defunding the police, providing financial support for illegal aliens and passing a wealth tax doesn't have anything to do with what happens in the classroom. The teachers union is abusing the coronavirus pandemic to push their own political agenda. This isn't about helping the students or keeping staff and faculty safe. Wanting things like smaller classes, personal protective equipment and frequent sanitizing of classrooms are things that will help keep teachers and students healthy.
At least if UTLA is going to push their agenda, they should be honest about it and not hide behind the coronavirus pandemic to try and make their goals a reality.