• Lindsey Kim

LAUSD Teacher Strike

Updated: Aug 24, 2020

Los Angeles Unified School District is the largest school district in all of California, and the second largest in the entire United States. The district educates over 600,000 students and contains over a thousand schools—and employs over 34,000 teachers.

These teachers left their jobs on Monday, January 14 to conduct a strike. This strike was to achieve three things: a teacher’s salary raise, smaller class sizes, and more counselors and nurses employed. This event is historic; LAUSD’s strike is the first in thirty years since 1989 and follows the trend of teacher strikes elsewhere in the country. In 2018, a wave of similar strikes swept across Oklahoma, West Virginia, and Arizona, with teachers successfully demanding pay raises and increased funding for schools. The teachers of LAUSD reached success on Tuesday the 22nd of January when United Teachers Los Angeles and the district voted on an agreement—the votes counted on Wednesday.

Teacher salaries have been an ongoing debate, and particularly in Los Angeles, teachers have protested their pay. The average LAUSD teacher salary is $75,000. Before the strike started, on January 11, LAUSD offered the United Teachers Los Angeles labor union a deal for a 6% pay hike, along with other assurances. The hike wasn’t enough for UTLA, citing that LAUSD had the funds to accomplish a 6.5% pay hike, along with other demands. Teachers are willing to sacrifice their current salary by striking in the interest of something as little as half a percent. And this shows in the numbers: in 2015, weekly wages of US teachers were 17% lower than other similarly college educated professionals. As of 2018, it’s as low as 19%. In the 2015 study, it was found that between 1996 and 2015, public-school teacher wages dropped $30 per week, when the weekly wages of all college graduates rose steadily. The National Education Association cites that less and less teachers enter the workforce overall, and that administrators do not associate recruitment with compensation, explaining the relative drop in wages. Over the past decade, on average, US teacher wages have dropped 3%.

Additionally, teachers are only paid for the days they work, meaning that the long breaks students receive leave teachers without pay, and some as a result take secondary jobs. This also applies to other educational responsibilities of a teacher: they are not paid for bus duty before or after school, and most are not compensated for advising clubs and after-school programs, or directing field trips.

Smaller class size is also a point of contention for LAUSD teachers. Some classes in the Los Angeles school district contain upwards of 40 students per room. This makes managing a classroom more difficult. In the original deal offered by LAUSD, one of the promises was to keep the class size at a maximum of 39. UTLA responded by saying that LAUSD was well within their means to manage classroom populations at well below that number, and capable of hiring many more teachers. Studies have found that smaller class sizes are conducive to learning, significantly in younger students from a less advantaged family.

The absence of nurses and psychologists is the schools across the United States is another ongoing debate. Before the strike, in its rejected deal, LAUSD had promised to hire more nurses. Studies show that in America, less than half of all public schools employ a full-time nurse. In the worst areas, there may be one nurse per 4,000 students. Since the Great Recession of the late 2000s, efforts to cut down school expenditure have resulted in nurses and therapists purged from payrolls. The current standing number of medically-related staff at public schools suggests that schools simply have not re-hired them. This poses a problem, because the absence of a nurse means that no immediate medical help can be administered to a child who may be injured or sick, and the mental needs of students are additionally at risk.

As the teacher strike continued in Los Angeles, more than 600,000 students were without educational instruction for a week. Teachers continued to protest for improved conditions, and the negotiations between United Teachers Los Angeles and the Los Angeles Unified School District stretched into a second week. But when a resolution was reached on Tuesday, a vote was cast and LAUSD teachers returned to teaching the following day. The deal includes full-time nurses for every school—which means about 300 new nurses are to be hired—hiring more therapists (one per every 500 students), and capping class sizes in all grade levels. Additionally, next year a committee will reduce standardized tests to about half of their current number. A librarian will be hired for all secondary schools, and teacher’s wages will rise 3% for this school year, and another 3% for the future, resulting in a 6% total pay raise (0.5% lower than what UTLA had originally hoped).

LAUSD estimates that this total deal will cost $175 million, and an additional $228 million for the 2021 to 2022 school year. The struggle to pay for the sudden costs is thought by LAUSD to cause future deficits, and the Los Angeles County Office of Education has been involved to help LAUSD’s finances. This money is theorized to come from a state tax, county parcel tax, and other city funds, along with LAUSD’s current reserves.

The resolve of LAUSD’s teachers has inspired others in the nation to strike for their jobs. Teachers in the Denver school district have voted to start an eventual strike, for the first time in 25 years, after a 93% approval vote from the Denver Classroom Teachers Association. They have spent 14 months debating the school district about the pay compensation, and haven’t been satisfied.