Monday, July 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES UNIONS FIGHT SCHOOL PRIVATIZATION EFFORTS: Politicians, charter school companies are behind the scheme

By: David Feldman | from PSL.oRg

The writer is a public school teacher and member of UTLA.

Friday, July 24, 2009  -- On July 14, the Los Angeles Board of Education decided to delay the vote on a proposal that would have allowed charter and outside groups to bid on control of 50 new schools scheduled to open in the next four years.

Los Angeles teachers' walkout, June 6, 2008
Los Angeles teachers take action against budget cuts >

Technically, external organizations such as teachers’ unions, parent organizations and community organizations could vie to control schools. But in reality, charter school organizations with corporate funding, like Green Dot, would have an unfair advantage, due to the financial resources at its disposal.

The real aim of all charter school companies is the further privatization of education and the weakening of teachers’ unions.

Green Dot is a private company founded by Steve Barr. It is funded by non-profit organizations with corporate ties, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Broad Foundation. Green Dot received a $10.5 million gift from the Broad Foundation in December 2006, an organization founded by Los Angeles area capitalist Eli Broad. Broad is a billionaire who made his fortune in real estate. He is currently involved in plans to further gentrify downtown Los Angeles. (L.A. Weekly, Dec. 7, 2006)

Green Dot successfully took over Locke High School in Watts in September 2007. It currently runs seven schools in the Los Angeles area, funded by a combination of private and public money. Even though Green Dot receives public money, it is unregulated and unaccountable to the public.

Although much is made of holding public schools accountable by capitalist politicians, charter schools are not subject to any oversight regarding academic performance at all. A 2004 study published by the American Federation of Teachers found that when socio-economic factors are taken into account, public school students outperform students in charter and private schools.

The Bush administration announced the much-awaited results of the AFT study with little fanfare since the outcome of the study did not support their agenda of increased privatization. Even today, the general perception among many is that private and charter schools are superior to public schools. This false outlook is promoted by the bourgeois media.

At the July 14 hearing, supporters and opponents of the privatization proposal spoke in front of the Los Angeles Board of Education, which sets policy for schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District. Opponents of the measure include all unions that represent workers in Los Angeles schools, including the United Teachers Los Angeles and the Teamsters. Seven unions sent a letter to the school board calling the proposal "an insult to these children and their families to outsource education to charters and other private entities."

The proposal is also an underhanded attempt by Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa to get some schools under his control. Earlier attempts by Villaraigosa to take over "failing" Los Angeles schools were ruled unconstitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2006. Due to public pressure and union opposition, the vote on the privatization proposal will not be heard again until Aug. 25.

Supporting the proposal were members of the so-called Parent Revolution. The Parent Revolution is a phony coalition, which includes Green Dot schools. It is an outgrowth of the Parents Union, started by Green Dot owner, Steve Barr. Members of the Parent Revolution were bused to the board meeting. They all got up and left when a representative of the school administrators’ union spoke.

Charter school operators bombard working-class parents with anti-union propaganda, and focus parents’ justifiable anger at the poor quality of public schools at the wrong target—teachers and the union that represents them, UTLA.

At a Parent Revolution press conference, one Latina mother said, through a Spanish interpreter: "There are lots of good teachers in the district but there are more bad teachers. But we can’t hold teachers accountable because they are so well protected by their union. … So we need a union to help us too." The Parent Revolution is in fact a corporate-sponsored "counterrevolution" aimed at dismantling public education.

Green Dot owner Barr is an expert salesman, and a liar. He claims that teachers in his schools are unionized. But this union is also phony. According to Green Dot’s own website, Green Dot does away with teacher tenure so teachers can be fired at any time and the company maintains the right to break contracts. Green Dot and charter school operators are pushing an anti-worker agenda under the guise of "saving the children." Never mind the fact that charter school students in study after study do not outperform children in public schools.

Teachers’ unions provide benefits necessary to attract good workers to the profession. With recent budget cuts, the larger class sizes and shrinking resources that come with the cuts, the conditions under which teachers are forced to work are increasingly difficult. What incentive would an energetic teacher have to teach in difficult schools in oppressed neighborhoods if they have no benefits and could be fired at any time for any reason?

Unions not only fight for benefits for teachers, but also strive for a better education for everyone. The teachers’ unions demand increased funding for public schools and smaller class sizes, and oppose penalizing schools because of the results of culturally biased assessment tests.

Private capitalists are unwilling to provide for human necessities, such as retirement and health care. The private sector does not have an interest in giving all students a quality education. Green Dot and companies like it want to provide a good school for a small number of students, get good press, and then take over more schools so their owners can accumulate more profits. It is not sustainable on a systemic level. Plus, charter schools can pick and choose students they would like to enroll, unlike public education, which has a mission to educate everybody.

Ultimately, the problem is not bad teachers; the problem is the system itself. Capitalism prioritizes making profits for a few over meeting the fundamental needs of the public, like education. The federal government should slash the military budget, and infuse education with hundreds of billions of dollars to hire more teachers and build new schools.

At the state level, corporations and millionaires should be taxed heavily and stripped of all tax breaks they currently receive as an incentive to "do business" there. Huge urban school districts such as LAUSD should slash their immense bureaucracies, including mini-districts, and funnel the funds saved into the classrooms where they belong.

●●smf's 2¢: is the Party for Socialism and Liberation – an unabashedly pro-labor and left of center voice.  PSL is certainly left of smf. Labels like Liberal and Progressive get bandied about – painting blue folks pink and red - but the above is essentially true; it well connects the dots ("green is not automatically  good") and follows the money – a partisan provocative roadmap/scorecard. On the same day that this came the LA Times editorial board bleated out another paean to Green Dot  --and Mayor Villaraigosa on Monday wrote a Times OpEd extolling the virtues of the plan excoriated here.

Read 'em all. Lines are being drawn in the sand and the waves are washing them away.

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