Parents to UTLA: The Money Belongs to Our Kids

When United Teachers Los Angeles released a self-financed report earlier this month claiming that charter schools bleed $500 million a year from LAUSD, parents rightly cried foul. The entire report, after all, was based on a single faulty premise – the idea that the money being discussed actually belongs to LAUSD.

It’s not the district’s money or UTLA’s money or any individual school’s money. This is taxpayer money that belongs to our kids. It’s money earmarked to educate our children, and it rightly goes with them to whatever public schools they choose to attend.

Imagine your children wearing backpacks full of money set aside to fund their education. The funding travels with your children wherever they go. Yes, when a child attends an independent charter, the charter school receives the funding to educate the child. The same thing happens when families permit out of LAUSD or move to another school district, such as Culver City, El Segundo, Manhattan Beach, Santa Monica or Beverly Hills.

Likewise, LAUSD does not receive funding to educate children attending private schools. All of this makes sense. Why should LAUSD receive funding to educate children that aren’t attending its schools?  

When LAUSD loses kids to charters, private schools or other school districts, it needs to cut its budget to adjust to the reality that it’s educating fewer kids. Unfortunately, that hasn’t happened. Instead, as LAUSD enrollment has declined, the district has added employees to its massive bureaucracy.

A superintendent’s report released last week showed that LAUSD’s certified administrative staff had increased 22 percent over the last five years, despite enrollment declines and projected budget deficits reaching nearly half a billion dollars. “How is it possible that administrators went up so much when we have a decline in enrollment?” asked board member Ref Rodriguez, shaking his head, according to LA School Report.

No business would ever be run this way, and a charter school run this way would likely get shut down. It’s time to face facts: LAUSD is not a jobs program. Its purpose is to educate children. As children leave LAUSD, it should downsize to solve its fiscal problems.

UTLA’s report cited fixed costs at the district that cannot be avoided, such as maintaining buildings. But LAUSD could be managing these assets more wisely, too. As we pointed out in this blog space earlier this month, LAUSD could do a far better job of allocating empty classroom space and buildings to charter schools under the Prop 39 process.

Because UTLA and LAUSD have been so hostile to charters in the Prop 39 process, many charters pay rent to churches and other landlords for private space. That’s rent money that LAUSD could be making from charters if it allocated classroom space more fairly instead of letting schools sit half empty or fall into in a state of decay.

The other fixed cost that UTLA clearly does not want us to focus on is pension benefits for its retiring teachers. “When it comes to the district’s finances, the elephant in the room is the $13 billion in unfunded post-employment benefit liabilities that places LAUSD in the unenviable position of having to make very hard decisions in the months and years to come,” the California Charter Schools Association told LA School Report. “It’s of course no surprise that UTLA’s report made no mention of that issue; they’d rather blame everyone else than offer real solutions for the district’s complex financial problems.”

School choice is a reality in California that’s not going to go away, and it is long past time that UTLA and LAUSD stop blaming charter families for the district’s declining enrollment and begin examining and addressing the reasons so many families are choosing charters.

For instance, LAUSD continues to pay out millions to settle teacher sex abuse cases. Just last week, LAUSD reached an $88 million settlement with the families of 30 children at two elementary schools, bringing LAUSD's total teacher abuse payouts above $300 million in the last four years. (UTLA has made no mention of this drain on LAUSD’s budget.)

One recent case involved an LAUSD teacher that abused a dozen students over a decade. He had been dismissed from a previous job at a private school and had gone to trial on allegations that he abused a boy. Nevertheless, LAUSD hired him, and plaintiffs allege that LAUSD ignored warnings from fellow teachers at the first district school where he worked. 

Also last week, an assistant principal at the Ramon C. Cortines School of Visual and Performing Arts was arrested on suspicion of sexual misconduct with a student dating back to his teaching days at Vista Middle School in Van Nuys. The charges include oral copulation and sodomy on a middle school minor.

When parents read these stories and learn that LAUSD employed sexual abusers and did little to stop abuse despite warnings – in part because laws backed by teachers unions made it so hard to dismiss the bad apples – is it really a surprise that so many have fled the district to charters and private schools that can hire and fire teachers at will? Can you really blame parents?

Many district teachers – and the LAUSD superintendent herself – have chosen to educate their own children at charters, private schools or at home. In fact, teachers do so at a greater rate than the general public. When LAUSD Superintendent Michelle King sent her own daughter to a private school that she deemed was a better fit than an LAUSD school, why should other parents be blamed for hurting the district when they make the same choice?

It’s pretty clear why UTLA focused on charter schools instead of the many other factors leading to LAUSD’s declining enrollment and fiscal crisis. As Education Post Director Peter Cunningham pointed out about the study, “the analysis did not include the 53 unionized charter schools in Los Angeles, suggesting that the real motivation behind the study is to protect unionized jobs, at the expense of the education of the children of Los Angeles.” 

UTLA needs to stop using parents as pawns to advance its adult political agenda and solve its own financial problems. Parents don’t care about lining union coffers or protecting the LAUSD bureaucracy. We care about one thing only: getting the best education for our kids.