With ‘walk-ins,’ national teachers union spotlights LA charter fight

A member of the student government at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles helps assemble a "quilt," comprised of roughly 100 cardstock panels representing the school's clubs and academic programs, on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. The quilt will be displayed at a rally at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 17.
A member of the student government at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles helps assemble a "quilt," comprised of roughly 100 cardstock panels representing the school's clubs and academic programs, on Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. The quilt will be displayed at a rally at the school on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Kyle Stokes

Teachers union sympathizers will rally at public school sites in more than two-dozen cities across the nation Wednesday morning — including at more than 170 Los Angeles Unified school sites — as part of a national demonstration of support for traditional public school districts.

Among those expected to be in attendance in Los Angeles: the president of the nation's second-largest teachers union. And that she's in L.A. specifically is no accident.

Randi Weingarten, who heads the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), said she chose to attend a Los Angeles rally to demonstrate her concern with plans to drastically expand charter schools in the city.

Countering those plans, Weingarten said, is "amongst [her] highest priorities." She added AFT has been working "hand-in-glove" with its local union affiliate, United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA), to organize opposition to a plan from the Broad Foundation that calls for enrolling 130,000 new students in charter schools by 2023.

The foundation's leaders say parents are hungry for more options, pointing to long waiting lists at Los Angeles charter schools. But L.A. Unified leaders have said the plan could throw the district into financial peril.

"Why wouldn't we do everything in our power to give parents a lot of alternatives, including the neighborhood public school?" Weingarten said. "Why create this false choice?"

"It's a zero-sum game for funding," she added, "because of the attempts to create more and more and more charters at the expense of fixing local public schools."

National organizers have dubbed Wednesday's rallies "walk-ins," since community members will have the chance to walk into school buildings before classes begin as a show of support. UTLA leaders also say their concerns about charters will feature prominently during Wednesday's rallies.

Weingarten will attend a walk-in alongside L.A. Unified Schools Superintendent Michelle King at Hamilton High School, the West Los Angeles building where King was once principal.

Hamilton students prepared for the visit last week by crafting a giant cardstock quilt, featuring nearly 100 panels decorated to represent the school’s academic programs and clubs.

Ariel Davis, 16, is a junior at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles. She says funding and support for the school's diverse array of academic and extracurricular programming 'is something that we need to protect.'
Ariel Davis, 16, is a junior at Hamilton High School in West Los Angeles. She says funding and support for the school's diverse array of academic and extracurricular programming 'is something that we need to protect.' Kyle Stokes

Ariel Davis, 16, a junior at Hamilton, said she has no problem with charter schools as an option for students seeking specialized attention or alternative curriculum. But Davis said she fears aggressive expansion of charters will harm her district school, which she says has served her well.

“This is something that we need to protect,” Davis said of her school. “If we don’t, it’s going to fall into ruin and it’s not going to be the same."

Charter school advocates have said that many L.A. Unified schools are already in rough shape. But on Tuesday, the California Charter Schools Association issued a statement seeking to turn down the temperature, saying there was a clear need for "transparent, honest conversations" about ways of improving Los Angeles schools.

"We are always eager to have those conversations and our door is always open to UTLA leadership to talk about how we can work together for the benefit of Los Angeles students, parents and teachers," writes Sarah Angel, the charter association's managing director for advocacy.

L.A. Unified school board members Steve Zimmer and George McKenna are also expected to attend a walk-in event at Hamilton High School, alongside Weingarten and King.

The walk-in, King said in a statement, "will take place before the start of the school day … allowing our employees to celebrate their success without disrupting the teaching and learning process."

Her statement did not mention charter schools.

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