Commentary: A Tumultuous School Year Winds Down

Teacher and Classroom
by Larry Sand


As the school year nears completion, a quick look at recent developments shows an education system in turmoil. The unions are more political than ever, their demands are shameless, lawsuits against the establishment abound, and school choice is rapidly expanding.


Americans for Fair Treatment, a national organization that supports public employees, reveals a startling fact: the NEA currently spends $10 million more on politics and lobbying than it does on representing its members. Similarly, the American Federation of Teachers saw a significant increase in its political spending, with $46.9 million allocated in 2023, a $11.2 million surge from the previous reporting period. These figures underscore the financial weight of the unions’ political activities.

Teachers’ unions, traditionally active in domestic politics, have now expanded their sphere of influence to foreign policy. This shift was exemplified by Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, who made a public statement on X several months ago calling for a permanent truce in the Middle East—a stance endorsed by the organization’s board of directors. This shift in the union’s activities marks a new era in their political engagement.

The Massachusetts NEA affiliate also approved a motion about the Middle East conflagration. “The MTA President and Vice President will urge the president of the NEA to pressure President Biden to stop funding and sending weapons in support of the Netanyahu government’s genocidal war on the Palestinian people in Gaza,” the motion read.

Union demands and strikes

Despite serious competition, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) has emerged as the craziest teachers’ union in the country. On May 15, hundreds of teachers ditched school to lobby lawmakers in Springfield for an extra $1.1 billion they claim the state owes the city. At the union’s request, the Chicago school district rolled over and granted the field trip as a paid day off. All this was just a warm-up for June, when negotiations for a new contract get underway.

CTU’s boatload of demands includes 9% annual raises for all teachers, $2,500 retirement bonuses, fully paid abortions for all members, housing subsidies for CTU staff and Chicago Public School families, total teacher autonomy over the curriculum, weight-loss drug coverage for all members, ad nauseam. CTU president Stacy Davis Gates proclaims the new contract would cost taxpayers $50 billion.

The Los Angeles Unified School District is facing an anticipated fiscal cliff as enrollment continues to plummet and the over $4 billion received by the district in federal COVID-era Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund (ESSER) aid winds down.

LAUSD was home to 737,000 students twenty years ago, but that number has now dwindled to 430,000. Student enrollment dropped by more than 70,000 students between the 2017-18 and 2021-22 school years, but the school district blithely added over 10,000 new employees during that five-year period.

But now, with the expiration of state and federal pandemic aid necessitating cutbacks, the unionistas are in a snit. The United Teachers Los Angeles and SEIU Local 99, the local union representing district support staff, rallied outside a school board meeting to protest the district’s budget.

UTLA’s current contract includes a 21% salary increase, and SEIU Local 99 negotiated a 30% wage increase last year, but union members still want more. Los Angeles Times education writer Howard Blume reports that angry union leaders lashed out against Supt. Alberto Carvalho at last week’s school board meeting, demanding that he fulfill a “pledge to protect jobs and employee benefits.”

Also in the Golden State, UAW 2865, the union representing 36,000 teaching assistants, graduate student researchers, and other academic workers at the University of California’s 10 campuses, has just voted to authorize a strike and “maximize chaos.” The union alleges that its workers’ rights have been violated at several universities by actions against pro-Palestinian protests. The walkouts, which are still in the planning stage, were approved by 79% of the 19,780 members who voted.


Parents of Chicago school students are suing CTU for damages. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys Patrick Hughes and Daniel Suhr from Hughes and Suhr LLC, stems from the strike that took place in January 2022. The attorneys say the strikes forced Chicago parents “to face unexpected childcare costs, take unpaid leave from work, and cope with additional financial strains.”

Using the same lawyers who are suing CTU, a group of families has filed a lawsuit against the Oregon Education Association and its local affiliate, the Portland Association of Teachers, for damages of over $100 million following a nearly month-long strike in November. “This lawsuit seeks compensation for the families who suffered financial and emotional distress because of this illegal strike,” the attorneys assert. 

Along with Kansas, Alaska, Utah, Wyoming, and Young America’s Foundation, the parent advocate group Moms for Liberty is filing a lawsuit to combat Biden’s new Title IX regulations, which would gut parental rights in K-12 education.

Moms for Liberty explains “that these overly broad regulations will also chill a student’s ability to say they are uncomfortable with someone of the opposite birth sex in their bathroom, and that a parent could be prevented from being the one to teach their own child about gender identity as it aligns with their personal beliefs.” 

In April, the California Charter Schools Association filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles Unified School District over its controversial new policy barring charter schools from using classrooms in certain district school buildings. The new rule prevents charters from colocating with low-performing schools, community schools that provide social services, and schools in the district’s Black Student Achievement Plan. It also prevents charter schools from being situated in places where they could siphon students away from district-run schools.

The teacher union-influenced schoolboard decision is especially galling, considering that the mass exodus from L.A. schools has left many school buildings with plenty of room to spare.

Jewish students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are taking action against their union representatives for allegations of anti-Semitism. Graduate students recently filed discrimination charges against the school’s Graduate Student Union (GSU) and the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), alleging that Jewish students are unlawfully being required to pay their dues for anti-Semitic causes.

On May 13, California’s Jurupa Unified School District approved a $360,000 settlement agreement for Jessica Tapia, a Christian teacher who sued the district after being fired in January 2023. She was sacked because her religious beliefs made her unable to comply with the district’s directives “to refrain from disclosing the gender identity of a student who is transgender to a parent who does not know the student’s gender identity” and “to address students by their preferred name and preferred gender pronouns.”

Tapia asked district personnel if they were asking her to lie to parents. They responded, “Yes, it’s the law.”

But in reality, according to state law, “Parents of currently enrolled or former pupils have an absolute right to access to any and all pupil records related to their children that are maintained by school districts or private schools.”

School choice

Ten states have passed universal education choice initiatives in the last two years. Louisiana, pending Gov. Jeff Landry’s signature, will be number 11.

In states that don’t have a private choice program, the best option for parents is to teach their kids themselves. There were about 3.1 million homeschooled students in 2021-2022 in grades K-12 in the U.S. (roughly 6% of school-age children), compared to 2.5 million in spring 2019.

This school year has been a turbulent one, and it’s not quite over yet. And who knows what the fall will bring.

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Larry Sand, a retired 28-year classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.






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