L.A.’s Teachers Union Can’t Do Simple Math

from The Wall Street Journal,

The school district is hemorrhaging cash and students, but the union plans to strike anyway.

As the federal government shutdown heads toward its third week, parents in Los Angeles are also bracing for a possible shutdown of the public-school system. On Jan. 10, the 33,000 members of United Teachers Los Angeles plan to go on strike. The Los Angeles Unified School District is trying to stanch red ink and avert a state takeover, while UTLA seeks to arrest a decade long decline in membership. But like the standoff between President Trump and congressional Democrats over funding a border wall, this brewing schoolyard brawl is as much about politics as it is about money. The Supreme Court’s Janus ruling last summer barred governments from forcing nonunion employees to subsidize collective bargaining and union political activities. Teachers unions across the country now face increased pressure to come up with big gains at the bargaining table to retain members. They must also find new sources of revenue to compensate for lost “agency fees,” previously assessed from employees who opt not to join the union.

Charter schools, which enroll about 154,000 students districtwide, provide low-income parents an escape valve. But tens of thousands of students remain on waiting lists and many families are moving to nearby districts with better public schools. The result: District-run schools have lost 245,000 students over the past 15 years and 55,000 since 2013. The district’s looming financial crisis is a simple math problem. State funding is tied to enrollment, which is shrinking. Yet the district’s fixed costs are growing. Retirement benefits make up about 15% of district spending, nearly 50% more than in 2013. The district is spending $350 million annually on retiree health benefits, which would be enough to award each teacher a $10,000 raise.

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