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New nationwide poll: Most people support teachers’ right to strike, but less than half believe their unions improve the quality of education

Esmeralda Fabián Romero | September 18, 2018

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Los Angeles teachers at a rally last year. (Photo: UTLA)

Thousands of teachers across the country have walked out of classrooms this year to demand better wages and more school resources. And Los Angeles could very well be next. But a new nationwide poll shows that support for teachers doesn’t necessarily translate to their unions.

The poll, conducted by USA Today and Ipsos Public Affairs, found that even parents who are greatly affected by the strikes support their teachers, and 6 out of 10 support national teachers unions. But less than half of the 2,000 respondents believe that unions improve the quality of education. And a solid majority — 66 percent — believe unions make it harder to fire bad teachers.

Statewide teacher strikes have rolled across West Virginia, Arizona, and Oklahoma, as well as in some Washington state school districts. Now, Los Angeles Unified, the second-largest school district in the nation, is preparing for what could be its first teachers strike in almost 30 years, which could shutter more than 1,000 schools serving nearly 600,000 students.

About 30,000 teachers, counselors, school psychologists, and other union members of United Teachers Los Angeles could strike as early as October. UTLA has been negotiating its contract with the district for over a year, calling for raises, smaller class sizes, “unilateral discretion” over testing, control over whether schools can convert to magnets, more oversight of campus-sharing agreements with charter schools, and other demands. Negotiations will enter into mediation Sept. 27.

UTLA claims the district has more than enough in reserve to fund their demands. But last week, top officials from both the county and the state came to the Los Angeles school board meeting to warn that the district cannot keep living off its reserves, which will run out within three years. That would force the county, then the state, to step in and take over the district.

And even though the district says it has budgeted for teacher raises, the county and the state are concerned it can’t afford them.

• Read more: It gets worse for LAUSD: This week both the county and the state showed up to say, ‘Get your fiscal house in order or else we’re taking over’

As the new superintendent, Austin Beutner, said last week, “We’re facing a fiscal cliff. It’s not theoretical and it’s not debatable. If nothing changes, we are headed for insolvency in the next two to three years.”

Despite concerns about teachers unions, teachers themselves fared well in the USA Today poll:

  • A vast majority, 76 percent, approve of their of local public school district teachers.
  • 73 percent said they had a teacher who made a big, positive impact in their life, and 44 percent said that teacher was in high school.
  • 61 percent of parents would encourage their child to become a teacher.
  • 66 percent said teachers have the right to strike.
  • 60 percent agree teachers are not paid fairly.
  • 78 percent agree that teachers spend too much of their own money on school supplies.

Other poll findings:

  • 60 percent agree that private and charter schools usually provide better education than public schools.
  • 60 percent approve of national teachers unions.
  • 33 percent of Republicans approve of national teachers unions, while 57 percent of Democrats do.
  • 48 percent said teachers unions improve the quality of education; 35 percent said they didn’t.
  • 36 percent of Republicans believe teachers unions improve the quality of education, while 64 percent of Democrats do.
  • 61 percent approve of their local school districts’ leadership.
  • 44 percent approve of the U.S. Department of Education’s leadership; 43 percent disapproved.

About the respondents:

  • 69 percent have a child or children attending public schools.
  • 17 percent have a child attending a religious school.
  • 11 percent have a child attending a non-religious private school.
  • 8 percent have a child attending a charter school.
  • 29 percent have teachers in their immediate family, meaning parents, siblings, or children.

The poll was conducted online Aug. 9-13 among more than 2,000 adults nationwide.

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