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Reflections on the 2019 Los Angeles and Denver Teacher Strikes

ERS joins a chorus of voices who are relieved that LAUSD students and teachers are back in classrooms together. No one wanted the strike, but both parties involved faced untenable situations—on one hand, teachers' working conditions in many schools are inadequate, with crowded classrooms and too few nurses and librarians; on the other hand, as we know from working closely with LAUSD, the district's fiscal crisis is real.

This latest collective bargaining agreement creates opportunities to improve working conditions—and learning conditions—in meaningful ways. Now that the strike is over, it is crucial for the district and union to work together to make some important choices to lead to both financial sustainability and more strategic and equitable resource use.

As we write, Denver teachers are also in the streets pushing for change in their compensation system. Though educators in each city have different compensation models and different demands, both are working in states that have chronically underinvested in education. Colorado, for example, saw a decrease in both inflation-adjusted average teacher salaries and per-pupil revenue from 2009-10 to 2014-15 (the last year for which data on both factors are publicly available); the gap between the average teacher salary and the "family living wage" is the biggest of any state in the nation. Though California has re-invested in education recently through the Local Control Funding Formula, both Colorado and California have lower-than-average "state effort"i.e., the percent of state GDP that goes to education.

Though California Governor Gavin Newsom's recent budget proposal is a promising step,  it is crucial for the district and union in both cities to work together to advocate for additional funding from the state. And both districts must invest in compensation, career path, and job structures that attract and keep great teachersincluding support for professional learning and incentives to teach in the highest-need schools and subjects.

When all parties come together, students and teachers can focus on what matters most—what happens in classrooms. The combined voices of district and union leaders has the potential to fundamentally change the conversation about how much, and how well, we invest in our students. 

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