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At Los Angeles Teachers’ Strike, a Rallying Cry: More Funding, Fewer Charters

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The chronic funding shortage for California’s large urban school systems is primarily because of the state’s property tax law. Voters passed Proposition 13 in 1978, capping property taxes and drastically limiting the amount of money the state could collect for public schools. The law has led to smaller, more affluent communities raising money with local bonds or parcel taxes, something that is virtually impossible in poorer urban districts like Los Angeles.

But despite widespread agreement from education experts that the law harms low-income schools, it is widely seen as a third rail of state politics and changing it would require statewide voter approval. There is now an effort, supported by both district and union leaders in Los Angeles, for a 2020 ballot measure that would change the law to increase commercial property taxes, but not change the law for homeowners.

Still, Democratic leaders are facing pressure to find significantly more money for public schools. The scrutiny is now turning to Mayor Eric Garcetti and Gov. Gavin Newsom. Austin Beutner, the superintendent of the Los Angeles Unified School District, has suggested that the mayor use some of the city’s budget to help pay for student services. And many observers say that an agreement between the union and the district will ultimately require more money from Mr. Newsom’s budget.

Although the union and Mr. Beutner agreed that the state should spend more on public schools, they are locked in a bitter fight over how the district should use the money it already has — and cannot agree on how much that is.

The union has pointed to a nearly $2 billion reserve, which it says could be used to pay for more educators so that class sizes are significantly smaller and that all schools have full-time nurses, counselors and mental health professionals. But Mr. Beutner has said the district is already spending far more than it brings in. A state-appointed fact-finder supported both claims, and both sides have pointed to the report to bolster their arguments.

Mr. Beutner has been steadfast in his support for charters, saying they give parents more choices and are an essential option in Los Angeles. But Mr. Beutner has pushed back at the union’s claim that he wants to shut down traditional public schools.

Mr. Garcetti has said he supports the teachers; on the first day of the strike, he said he was “immensely proud of Los Angeles’s teachers today for standing up for what I believe is a righteous cause.” But the mayor has also embraced his role as mediator between the union and district. On Thursday, Mr. Beutner and Alex Caputo-Pearl, the president of the union, met face-to-face for the first time in nearly 10 days, but negotiations appeared to remain at an impasse.

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