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Commentary: A teachers strike is bad for our students, families and economy

Hilary Norton and Tracy Hernandez | October 10, 2018

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While a strike looms within our nation’s second-largest school district, the business community of Los Angeles urges the Los Angeles Unified School District and United Teachers Los Angeles to resolve their differences in a way that doesn’t put students at risk.

As the organized, grassroots voice of the business community in Greater Los Angeles, BizFed works to support the public institutions that serve our community and the families that work to build our region’s economy. BizFed represents 390,000 businesses that employ nearly 4 million people throughout Los Angeles County. The majority of these employees are working to support their families, many of which include LAUSD students. It is important that the needs of students are placed first in the negotiations.

Last week, BizFed wrote a letter to the LAUSD board and the UTLA executive officers urging them to do everything possible to avoid a strike. We received appreciative and positive feedback from LAUSD Board President Mónica García and Superintendent Austin Beutner as well as UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl.

When schools are closed due to strikes, students miss learning opportunities, parents must take days off from work and our region is disrupted. Beyond hurting families, this strike will hurt our businesses and their ability to sustain and create new jobs.

This potential strike by LAUSD teachers will be the first in nearly three decades. The strike in 1989 lasted nine days; the most recent teachers strike in West Virginia lasted seven days. For a family living paycheck to paycheck, over a week of unpaid time off to watch their children should not be the deciding factor between paying the rent and putting food on the table; the entire family’s livelihood is threatened. Imagine a single mom who is a nurse and has no one to watch her children. She must choose between leaving her children at home or missing a shift. That money cannot be paid back.

Every day that a student is not in the classroom, they lose learning opportunities. Students fall behind the content standards set by the California State Board of Education, and teachers have to add those lost days into their curriculum. Students lose daily social interactions with their peers, which helps build character and good citizenship. Think of a student who has the dream of being a doctor. They miss school and now are discouraged and lose the aspiration of being a doctor.

At-risk youth are the most vulnerable when there are school closures. If parents don’t have the ability to skip work during a teacher strike, can’t afford childcare or don’t have family that can help out, that means students are left unsupervised. Anyone who has children knows that the course of their lives can change in an instant. We must avoid putting our children’s health and safety at risk.

 In LAUSD, over 84 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price meals; the district serves over 700,000 meals each day. For many of these students, this is their only chance to eat a healthy breakfast, lunch and supper after school. A child’s nutrition should not be compromised at the hands of this potential strike.

As business leaders, we value the importance of treating teachers fairly while maintaining fiscal solvency. We urge LAUSD and UTLA to find a resolution that accomplishes both. Employers care deeply for the strength and effectiveness of our K-12 educational systems. These students will also become the workforce that will grow our economy into the future.

We understand that LAUSD needs more resources and support from the state, but they do not need to exacerbate the problem by cutting off the current stream of per-pupil state funding each day the strike occurs.

The business community is ready to stand with its school district and teachers to support our public education system. We implore LAUSD and UTLA to avoid public fights, come to a resolution and work with the larger community to improve our city’s education system for all. Keep our future leaders learning!

Hilary Norton is BizFed chair and executive director of FAST (Fixing Angelenos Stuck in Traffic).

Tracy Hernandez is the founding CEO of the Los Angeles County Business Federation (BizFed) and president of IMPOWER Inc. BizFed is a grassroots alliance of more than 175 business organizations representing 395,000 businesses with nearly 4 million employees throughout Los Angeles County. BizFed advocates for policies and projects that strengthen the regional economy by exploring all sides of critical issues and takes action on policies to make a difference for business growth, job creation and economic vitality in Southern California. 

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