Day 1 of LA teachers’ strike: Newsom pushes for more transparency of charter schools

As thousands of teachers took the streets of Los Angeles today in the first day of a massive teacher strike, Gov. Gavin Newsom said he planned to immediately address one of the issues driving a wedge in negotiations: charter schools.

Newsom told reporters late this afternoon that he wants the Legislature to bring him legislation adding more “transparency” to the state’s 1,200-plus charter schools. The governor did not specify what he meant by “transparency,” but in the past he has broadly advocated for more financial and accountability regulations on charters, which educate about 10 percent of the state’s student population.

“We want to get a (charter) transparency bill on my desk as soon as possible,” Newsom told reporters Monday afternoon. “I’m going to be advancing with a sense of urgency.”

Although charter schools are not part of the main list of demands on the bargaining table between United Teachers Los Angeles, the teachers’ union leading the strike, and the L.A. Unified School District, a rift over the role of charters has unmistakably contributed to tensions and distrust between the union and the district. Charter schools in California, most of which are nonprofit, operate free from some of the regulations that govern other public schools.

Last year, a bill that would have required charter schools to follow the state’s open meeting laws failed in the Assembly.

About one-fifth of the 620,000 students in the district attend public charter schools, which the teachers’ union views as a threat to the livelihood of traditional district schools and one of the reasons for the district’s financial distress. The union wants the state to go even further than what a transparency bill is likely to encompass. The union wants a “cap” on charter schools.

The Los Angeles strike, the city’s first since 1989, disrupted hundreds of thousands of students and families in the nation’s second-largest school district.

District officials have increasingly sought to pressure the state’s political leaders to intervene in the contract dispute, saying that only the governor and Legislature can act on many of the union’s demands—which include higher pay, lower class sizes and more resources for teachers and students.

District Superintendent Austin Beutner last week publicly asked for Newsom to get involved. The union has not formally asked the governor to intervene in negotiations, but Newsom—who won election with major support from the state’s teachers unions, said the union in Los Angeles “has engaged consistently with this administration.”

Newsom said Monday that he’s been in “nonstop” communication with the district and union, adding “we need to get this to a conclusion, we need to see a deal.”

The governor maintains he’s done his part to help secure a deal. He pointed to his budget proposal, which includes a record $80.7 billion for K-12 and community college education and a $3 billion teacher pension relief plan that the district said freed up $40 million in its own budget.

Newsom’s budget announcement briefly raised the district’s hopes that a strike could be averted. Soon after, it made the union a new offer, which the union later rejected, that would’ have added more money to reduce class sizes and hire more nurses, librarians and counselors than previously proposed.

“I think our budget did a lot to help create the room for an agreement,” the governor said.

Meanwhile, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond expressed support for teachers and called for a quick end to the strike in a Facebook post Monday evening.

“Hoping we can get this resolved quickly so we can get teachers and students back to where they want to be—in their classes,” Thurmond wrote.
“Thank you to all teachers for supporting our students. Thank you teachers, students, and parents for the sacrifices you are making in this strike.”

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