L.A. teachers union faces tough questions in wake of charter election wins
Los Angeles’ teachers union, for decades a dominant political force in school district politics, suffered a crushing defeat this week that speaks to a larger power shift away from labor and toward the growth of the well-heeled charter school movement.
Two candidates opposed by United Teachers Los Angeles — Nick Melvoin and Kelly Gonez — won seats on the Los Angeles Board of Education, creating the board’s first-ever, pro-charter school majority.
Particularly stinging to the union was the loss of school board President Steve Zimmer to Melvoin, who supports weakening teacher job protections.
In a third race, the union did not even attempt to unseat incumbent Monica Garcia, who also is counted as part of a charter-friendly bloc.
The election losses amount to more than just the back and forth of politics, with one party on top now and another later, where ground lost today can be made up tomorrow, according to observers from various perspectives. It is unclear whether the union can recover the territory.
One widely expected outcome is that charter schools will continue to grow in number and influence. That could benefit students and families looking for alternatives to their local public schools. But because most charter schools are not unionized, their growth threatens the teachers union — and possibly other local public-employee unions.
Unions, after all, just lost big in pro-union Los Angeles. The steady increase in the number of charter schools and charter students — about 16% of district enrollment — has translated into a growing voting bloc that sees the teachers union as an enemy.
In L.A., as in other cities with many charter schools, it has become increasingly difficult for politicians to ignore or oppose their pro-charter constituency, said Mike Petrilli, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, an education think tank in Washington, D.C.
“In D.C., where you’ve got half the kids in charters, they are untouchable,” Petrilli said. “You cannot run for mayor of D.C. and be anti-charter. There’s a reason the unions fight so hard to keep the charter school movement small. They know things are going to get tougher for them the larger it gets.”
In L.A., he added, “the politics from here on out are going to be different and difficult for the unions.”
Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, a statewide union, called L.A.’s election day upset “a monumental shift.”
“This was clearly the California Charter School Assn. flexing its muscles,” he said of the L.A. teachers union faces tough questions in wake of charter election wins - LA Times: