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L.A. charter school expansion could mean huge drop in unionized teaching jobs

Students walk down a hallway at Metro Charter Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles.

Students walk down a hallway at Metro Charter Elementary School in downtown Los Angeles.

(Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles Times)

If a proposal for a massive expansion of charter schools in Los Angeles moves forward, the casualties would likely include the jobs of thousands of teachers who currently work in the city’s traditional public schools.

As new charters open, regular schools would face declining enrollment — and would need fewer teachers.

Under the $490-million plan being spearheaded by the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, 260 new charters would be opened in the city in eight years. The goal is to more than double the number of students attending these schools, which are independently run and mostly non-union.

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The “Great Public Schools Now” proposal makes no mention of recruiting instructors from the ranks of L.A. Unified — even though the foundation acknowledged this week that the charter growth would require about 5,000 instructors. The plan talks about hiring from an expanded Teach For America program and other groups that work with young, inexperienced instructors.

If the plan is carried out, “Los Angeles will have the strongest set of teacher and leader development programs of any city in the state of California,” according to the proposal.

The Broad Foundation said this week that teachers are key to the success of the proposal.

“We are in the process of listening to educators and community members to determine how best to support the dramatic growth of high-quality public schools in Los Angeles,” said spokeswoman Swati Pandey. “We know that without great teachers, there can be no great public schools. We’re eager to engage and support teachers as part of this work.”

The fate of teachers is becoming a major political issue in the debate over charter expansion, with L.A.’s teachers union at the forefront of the opposition.

“The charters are specifically looking for educators who have not had the experience of being in a union, which means that, by and large, they’re looking for teachers who may find it more challenging to raise their voice about curriculum or school conditions,” said Alex Caputo-Pearl, president of United Teachers Los Angeles.

Union leaders said they believe the charter expansion also is designed to dilute the labor group’s political strength by reducing the number of dues-paying members. Teachers unions and their allies have squared off with Broad and his allies in recent and costly school-board elections. Additionally, the union does not support the types of changes and accountability measures favored by Broad and others.

The number of teachers in L.A. Unified has shrunk from about 32,300 to about 25,600 over the last six years. About half that decrease is due to the growth of charters, according to the district. Charters enroll more than 100,000 students, about 16% of the total, in the nation’s second-largest school system.

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Charters typically employ younger, less-experienced teachers who remain in the classroom for a shorter period of time, according to research from UC Berkeley and a 2015 analysis from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Mass.

Twitter: @howardblume

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