Guzzardi column: Small classrooms a fantasy in LA
If any reader can describe a more comic-tragic state than Los Angeles Unified School District teachers demanding smaller classroom sizes when their union, the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA), vigorously supports unlimited immigration, please contact me at the email listed below.
Last month, striking teachers approved a contract between their union and Los Angeles Unified School District officials that will give instructors a 6 percent pay hike, additional staff support and — over a four-year period — smaller class sizes. As one teacher told CNN, “39,42, 50” students are “stuffed” into a single room.
The details on how to get to those smaller class sizes will be worked out later, weasel words for nobody has a clue. And why everyone is clueless is because thousands of immigrant children flock into California’s public schools every year with the blessing of every official with decision-making power. Starting with Gov. Gavin Newsom and down to the local school principals, everyone, at least officially, is all in on immigration.
All are welcome in sanctuary state California, and the UTLA is among the most welcoming. The UTLA has hosted “Immigrants’ Rights for Educators,” and participated in “Freedom for Immigrants” and “Here to Stay” rallies, actions that belie searching for classroom overcrowding solutions.
Some legislative history partially explains how California’s schools got into the mess they’re in today. In 1982, the Plyler v. Doe Supreme Court decision ordered equal access to all children regardless of their immigration status. At about the same time that the Supreme Court handed down its decision, California’s legal and illegal immigrant population began to increase dramatically. Today, about half of the country’s 43.7 million immigrants live in California, Texas and New York, with California accounting for 24 percent, or about 10.7 million, according to Pew Research. The state’s entire population is 39.8 million.
In 1994, Proposition 187, which would have denied some benefits to illegal immigrants, including public education, passed with 59 percent of the vote. But after immigration advocacy groups with the assistance of then-Governor Gray Davis filed several law suits, eventually Prop 187 was dead.
How much blame for California’s education failures can be attributed to the Supreme Court, Prop 187’s federal court scuttling or the subsequent 25 years of unenforced immigration laws with myriad loopholes in the law that encourage immigration is hard to pinpoint. But bundle the three variables together, and the explanation for California plunging from one of the nation’s most effective and respected public school systems to 10th from the bottom becomes apparent.
For the 2017-2018 academic year, about 25 percent of LAUSD’s total enrollment is classified as English Learners. About 100 languages other than English are spoken in LAUSD, mostly Spanish, but also Korean, Armenian, Tagalog, Cantonese, Arabic, Vietnamese and Russian.
Statewide, the EL breakdown is similar. Of the state’s 6.2 million enrollees, about 1.3 million are ELs. The California Department of Education doesn’t identify whether the non-English speaking students are legal immigrants’ children, the American-born citizen children of illegal immigrants or illegal immigrants. But using the widely accepted cost per pupil rate of roughly $10,000 annually, California taxpayers spent approximately $10 billion last year and have spent hundreds of billions of dollars over the decades to educate non-English speaking students. That amount of money and teacher effort comes with at least some consequences to the mainstream students. A teacher has only so much time during a demanding day.
Going forward, if L.A. teachers truly want smaller classes, they must defy their union on the grounds that it’s unreasonable and unfair to promote more immigration when so many existing students are already underserved.
Joe Guzzardi is a Progressives for Immigration Reform analyst who has written about immigration for more than 30 years. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.