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Commentary: Vote for candidates who are committed to children

Guest contributor | May 1, 2017

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This is part of a series of essays by Los Angeles leaders and stakeholders on the importance of a high-quality education for all LA students and the May 16 school board election.

By Randy Bishop

I’ve always viewed education as a big equalizer. My great-grandparents immigrated to this country with nothing. Their children, my grandparents, went to public schools here in Los Angeles. My parents in turn both went to Los Angeles public schools, as did my sisters and I. I started my own children at public school. Sadly, I quickly realized that today, that same system that had created success for generations of Americans — including my entire family — was not providing the education that I wanted for my children. I reluctantly switched them to private school.

Public education should open doors for everyone. In the past, if a child had potential and applied himself in school, our American education system opened doors to new opportunities. To me, it is one of the cornerstones of a fair and just society. Everyone doesn’t start with the same advantages, but good education offers a way to level the playing field. What’s more, having a well-educated workforce is crucial for our country to remain economically competitive.

Throughout school and my career, I have tried to make a difference on this front. I’ve tutored in the inner city. I’ve been a big brother and mentor for underprivileged kids. For a while, I entertained the idea of becoming a Broad Scholar to be able to have a more direct impact in a public education system. I am currently on the board of a local charter school organization.

It has been depressing to watch how Los Angeles public schools have deteriorated over time. Educational options have evaporated for families in certain ZIP codes. In 1986, my public high school sent five kids to Stanford, two to Harvard, and another handful of other Ivy League schools. Thirty-five went to UC Berkeley and a similar number to UCLA.

Just 30 years later, the school is sending just a small fraction of those numbers to top schools. And it is still considered an excellent public high school. College enrollment and graduation numbers at inner-city public schools are appalling. If you are born in the wrong part of town, your shot at finishing college is less than 10 percent. It feels un-American and unfair — and worrisome for the future of our country.

The current system isn’t working. LAUSD is rapidly deteriorating. It’s going bankrupt and failing its key customer – its students. The system needs to be reformed. Unfortunately, the teacher unions often stand directly in the way of reform.

In the 1970s and 1980s, teacher unions served a noble purpose and were instrumental in bringing fair working conditions to teachers. Since then their strength and influence have grown — the pendulum of power has swung too far.  

In the private sector, if a union asks for too much, the company on the other side goes out of business. And private sector unions do not have the crazy advantage of electing the people who negotiate against them. But the teacher union elects the very people who are responsible for negotiating work and pay rules. This had led to incredible unfunded liabilities for pensions and work rules that make it impossible to get rid of ineffective employees. Teachers can be granted tenure after as little as one and a half years.

The costs saddle the future generations with an unfair financial burden. To make matters worse, it’s a debt payment for an education that is failing them.

Teacher unions effectively represent the interests of their members: teachers. That’s as it should be. What’s not fair is when they couch their arguments and positions as what is best for the students. That’s not who they represent. To pretend otherwise is dishonest. And often what is best for a teacher — job protections, higher pay for seniority over talent, shorter hours — is contrary to what might be best for students.

We need to keep our eye on the main goal of the education system. It’s not to provide employment for teachers or to create an ever-increasing number of administrative jobs, which continue to grow even as enrollment in the school system shrinks. The purpose of schools is to help children succeed, to provide pathways out of poverty and ignorance, to build a better future and security for families, and to educate a stronger workforce for our country. This is a core American value: the promise of college or a decent job for everyone from those living in poverty to rural Americans to those who immigrate here. A fair shot. Everything in LAUSD (and other education systems) should be oriented around that goal.

When the LAUSD school board is not controlled by union candidates, incredible progress toward education reform and improvements in the inner-city schools and teacher accountability have been made. When the union candidates are in the majority on the board, the opposite is true. They fight to protect the status quo and almost always put teachers’ interests first.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Even parents who don’t have kids public schools should care that we have a healthy, effective education system. It’s the only way to ensure we have a strong city, state, and country. Every registered voter should vote in school board elections for candidates who can make a difference. Parents with kids in the current public system should vote for candidates that will make a difference.

Unfortunately, almost no one votes in these school board elections. In the last school board election, just 11 percent of eligible voters voted, and on the affluent west side, just 8 percent of eligible voters participated in the election.

So please vote in the upcoming school board runoff election on May 16. Please vote for candidates who are committed to children, not just teachers. The outcome of this election will be decided by a small number of voters, so your single vote has tremendous impact. So vote! Make a difference! Our children in Los Angeles deserve a fair shot.

Randy Bishop is co-founder and president of and a board member of KIPP LA Schools and Leo Baeck Temple.

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