Schooled Reporting on education

Another teacher strike on the way

Education | Los Angeles educators set to walk out next week
by Laura Edghill
Posted 1/02/19, 03:04 pm

As students across the country return from Christmas break, those in the nation’s second-largest public school district may have to wait a little longer. Teachers in the Los Angeles Unified School District plan to go on strike starting Jan. 10—their first walkout in nearly 30 years.

For the past 20 months, union negotiators and district officials have attempted to resolve numerous differences regarding teacher pay, class sizes, the provision of full-time nurses in schools, limits on charter schools, and more. In December, they reached an impasse, and the union announced that a strike was imminent.

“We’ve reached the point where enough is enough,” United Teachers Los Angeles President Alex Caputo-Pearl said at a news conference.

The union claims the district is sitting on a reserve of $1.8 billion that could be used to address their requests. Despite a total annual budget of $13.7 billion and a 15-year declining enrollment trend, district officials have offered $30 million in additional funds to reduce class size and hire additional counselors and nurses. The district said the union agreed to its offer of a 6 percent pay raise, but the impasse remains.

Teacher strikes are illegal in most states, including California. Recent strikes in West Virginia and Washington state, though, appear to have emboldened the LA union.

The May 2018 appointment of Austin Beutner as the district’s new superintendent seems to have added fuel to the fire. An investment banker and former LA deputy mayor, Beutner brings a wealth of business and financial expertise to the table, but he has not won many friends as he has attempted to address the district’s sizable financial and structural problems. Beutner has consistently stated that his plan to reorganize the district will ultimately improve services to students and families.

“A strike would harm students, families, and communities most in need,” the district said in a statement.

Associated Press/Photo by Ken Ruinard/The Independent-Mail Associated Press/Photo by Ken Ruinard/The Independent-Mail Jesse Osborne at the Anderson County Courthouse in Anderson, S.C., on Dec. 12

School shooter’s case could test life sentence for juveniles

South Carolina teen Jesse Osborne pleaded guilty in December to two charges of murder for fatally shooting his father in their home and a 6-year-old boy at Osborne’s former elementary school. The September 2016 killings took place just weeks after Osborne turned 14, but he is being tried as an adult due to the severity of the crimes.

While Osborne faces a minimum sentence of 30 years, prosecutors said they would seek a life sentence without parole. Court Solicitor David Wagner emphasized the horror of the two shootings as well as Osborne’s messages to a private Instagram group of “would-be school shooters” as justification for the maximum sentence. The prosecution team also detailed prior incidents of disturbing behavior, including bringing a machete to his middle school and a school psychologist’s report that Osborne claimed he was going to “kill all the bullies.”

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected mandatory life sentences without parole for juveniles in 2012. The decision said children lack maturity and are prone to “recklessness, impulsivity, and heedless risk-taking,” and therefore should be sentenced under different guidelines than adults. One of Osborne’s defense attorneys, Frank Eppes, claims Osborne is remorseful and understands that he could spend the rest of his life in prison.

The sentencing hearing has not yet been scheduled, with both sides agreeing they need time to gather information and select witnesses. —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert Associated Press/Photo by Gerald Herbert A kindergarten class at a New Orleans charter school

Walmart heirs promote charter schools

Heirs to the Walmart fortune are pledging $1 billion to expanding charter school choices in urban environments, which are often predominantly minority neighborhoods.

The latest philanthropic effort of the Walton Family Foundation, one of the leading supporters of the charter school movement, involves building bridges with prominently African-American community organizations like the United Negro College Fund. The foundation donated $9 million to the fund last year, which was used for a fellowship program for students interested in education reform.

“Those closest to the challenge often have the best solution,” Marc Sternberg, who leads the Walton Family Foundation’s education efforts, said in a statement.

Controversy swirls in the black community regarding the effectiveness of charter schools, with some believing the schools offer a vital pathway out of poverty and into opportunity in neighborhoods where struggling public schools abound, while others cite concerns about racial segregation, inconsistent student outcomes, and the hollowing-out of neighborhood public schools as deeply troubling issues. In 2016, the NAACP called for a nationwide moratorium on new charter schools, a sentiment also voiced by the Black Lives Matter movement. The NAACP’s concerns include transparency and accountability issues, longtime sticking points for the publicly funded but privately run schools.

But sweeping generalizations of charter schools aside, the Walton family’s sharpest critics accuse them of exploiting black faces to advance white agendas.

“It’s a sad thing that education reform is about how much money you have and not about what connection you have with black communities,” said Andre Perry, an education policy expert at the Brookings Institution.

The Walton Family Foundation maintains it’s simply trying to push the resources into the hands of those who know the neighborhoods best.

“This is not our agenda,” Sternberg said. “This is way bigger than us.” —L.E.

Associated Press/Photo by Robyn Beck/Pool AFP Associated Press/Photo by Robyn Beck/Pool AFP Elon Musk speaking at a December event

Tech billionaire drops another $400K into Flint schools

Flint Community Schools (FCS) recently scored another generous gift from tech billionaire Elon Musk, this time for technology purchases. Last October, the Tesla CEO’s Musk Foundation awarded $480,000 to the school district to install water filtration systems in all 12 of its buildings. In December, the foundation awarded another grant of $423,000 to the district to outfit all FCS middle schoolers with Chromebook laptop computers.

While Flint students are certainly celebrating the announcement, it illustrates a troubling trend in public education of cash-strapped districts spending valuable time and resources chasing down outside funding. Invariably, there are winners and losers, most of whom are children with no real say in the equation.

Three years ago, Detroit Public Schools’ Spain Elementary School found itself on the receiving end of generosity from TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres and Lowe’s Home Improvement to the tune of nearly half a million dollars. No one could argue that the building didn’t desperately need the new roof that the gift provided, but controversy ensued concerning the shocking state of other Detroit Public School buildings and the tax-based funding inequities that contribute to those conditions.

U.S. Department of Education statistics show that 9 out of every 10 students in the nation attends a taxpayer-funded public school. That means 50 million young people are affected daily by the conditions of their buildings, quality of teachers, local community investment, and types of materials and opportunities to which they have access. There are no easy fixes to systemic funding challenges in public schools, but as people of faith, we can at least care for the vulnerable in prayer, volunteerism, and service. —L.E.

Laura Edghill

Laura is a freelance writer, church communications director, and public school board member living in Clinton Township, Mich., with her engineer husband and three sons. She is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Laura on Twitter @LTEdghill.

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    Posted: Fri, 01/04/2019 06:15 pm

    I've seen how some school principals who make an effort to reach out to the businesses in their communities to help the students in their schools. 

    It's sad when other schools complain about it instead of making an effort to reach the businesses in their own communities. 

    Posted: Fri, 01/04/2019 06:20 pm

    Isn't it interesting when organizations like naacp make decisions against the very people that are supposed to be representing. Money talks.

    It must be very frustrating for african americans. I have often told myself not to get to upset over something I have no control over. 

    Posted: Fri, 01/04/2019 06:26 pm

    I hope when Osborne comes up for parole, or his time is up, someone does something to keep him in prison. 

    I love how someone under Trump should get life in prison because Mueller says so, but a murderer gets a reduced sentence.

    Once again, the Bible has called it for what it is. 

    Yes, we have gone thru this before, but what have we learned. And we Christians have not taught our children well.