Teachers employed by the Los Angeles Unified School District are scheduled to go on strike on Monday and that led to teachers around the state and across the country to take part in a day of action Friday in support.
That included public school teachers in Humboldt County as well.
The #Red4Ed movement is a nationwide effort by public school educators to pressure the government into providing the necessary funding so students receive the best education possible.
“For me personally, I feel that what is going on with the strike in L.A. is not just an issue for L.A. teachers but it’s relevant for all of us,” said Malia Freedlund, a teacher at Triple Junction High School in the Mattole Unified School District. “There are a lot of trends that show public education is under attack and that’s what spurred action in L.A. The school board appointed a superintendent who is not on the side of public education. This is not just a fight for public education and teachers, but it’s a fight relevant for everybody. The dismantling of the public education system is the dismantling of equality in our society.”
Educators have outlined a list of priorities and concerns related to public school funding they’d like to see addressed, including the statewide need for more nurses, behavioral specialists, psychologists, smaller class sizes, competitive wages and adequate funding.
Local districts might not be on the front lines of the current battle being waged 600 miles to the south, but the general trend of diverting public funds to charter schools is one of the reasons public campuses have seen a decrease in funding.
“Any time you hear someone speak about charter schools and the idea of choice, it sounds good but this is about separation and a big sticking point for the (California Teachers Association) union is (charter schools) are being used as a guise for privatized schools,” Freedlund said. “I think the discussion is really important up here and in places where we aren’t feeling the heat so strongly and it’s a confusing topic to unravel for the public. We need the backing of the public and we have seen some positive progress.”
Teachers held walk-ins at campuses across the state Friday and another day of action is scheduled for Monday. The CTA supports the strike and the walk-ins and the issues are not solely related to what happens in the classroom; there are increases in health care costs and pension costs.
“The challenge, even with the increase in funding to public schools, districts are struggling to contain losses to the state pension funds,” said attorney Lathe Gill, CTA consultant in Eureka. “The 2008 recession has led to long-term increases in contribution rates to keep it solvent and, even with changes made in 2013, the cost of health care our schools provide for employees have pretty close to tripled in the past three years.”
Gill reiterated the key priorities for the CTA are increased staffing in key positions such as counselors and teacher’s aides. When he pointed to the national movement, he noted the greatest pressure is coming from areas in the country where public school funding has been drastically cut back.
“We are trying to tap into the energy from the things happening in West Virginia, Oklahoma and North Carolina,” Gill said, “and I think it’s notable the groundswell has been strongest in places where they chronically underfunded public education. Teachers in a lot of places are struggling with large classes and a lack of staffing and if you ask teachers why they got into education, they will tell you it’s because they care about kids and want to help them succeed in school and succeed once they leave.”
Three parents joined the teachers outside the Mattole School on Friday for a picture and more could show up Monday for the walk-in, but the message, whether it’s from parents or teachers, is giving short-shrift to public education is a detriment to society as a whole.
“I’m concerned about not just the impacts to the education industry but to the weakening of unions and union action,” said Triple Junction history teacher Jeff Skehen. “These are negatives for workers, the regular people who are struggling every day. This is another attack from the wealthy owners trying to undermine workers’ rights.”
Teacher union action in West Virginia, Arizona and Oklahoma in 2017 and 2018 resulted in raises for educators and there is a chance for action in Oakland as well, but educators remain committed to the core mission, providing students with an education that will benefit them over the course of a lifetime.
“Keeping public education publicly funded means accountability,” Skehen said. “With privatization of education information on students can be hidden or even fabricated while as public teachers we are held accountable. We are trying very hard to help students gain the skills they will need to do well in school and out of school. Collective bargaining power is key to keeping us effective.”
For more information about the movement check https://californiaeducator.org/redfored/.
Dan Squier can be reached at 707-441-0528.