Bill Boyarsky
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Poverty shapes the schools dispute

lasud-kids.jpgNo matter how the dispute between the teachers union and the Los Angeles school district ends, the root cause of failure in L.A. schools and among their students won't go away.

At the heart of the public schools' troubles in L.A. and other urban areas is income inequality. The number of poor is growing. Poverty shapes schools afflicted with it. Lower class size, higher teacher pay, charter schools, more school nurses and other proposals may help. But they won't reduce the barrier poverty imposes on children and parents, preventing them from rising to the middle class.

Reporter Andrea Castillo [fixed] showed why in a Los Angeles Times story. She told of Merwinn Rojas, 11, and his mother, Angelica Valdovinos. Valdovinos works nights at McDonald's four days a week. She gets home at 5 a.m. She walks her son to and from Foshay Learning Center, his school, to church classes on Friday nights and to Saturday morning college prep classes at USC. She recently separated from Merwinn's father and is worried about paying rent.

Times columnist Steve Lopez, after two months at an elementary school in high-poverty Pacoima, wrote, "We spend a fortune on education, but 80% of L.A. Unified’s several hundred thousand students live in poverty, and schools don’t have enough resources to compensate for a skewed economy and societal challenges beyond their control."

The Public Policy Institute of California, studying figures through 2016, said that about 7.4 million of the state’s 39.7 million residents couldn’t afford to pay for sufficient housing, food, medical care, transportation or other basic needs. A family of four would need an income of $31,000 a year to meet those needs.

strike-date-change-utla.jpgReporter Ricardo Cano noted in CALmatters that California is among the lowest 10 states in per pupil funding although the public schools have received more money in the past few years to make up for Great Recession spending cuts.

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s budget would give substantial help to the Los Angeles Unified School District and others around the state. It offers the union and the LAUSD a path toward settlement. Newsom proposed funds to reduce LAUSD's pension liability; a big increase in state aid for grades ranging from kindergarten to community college; and money to reduce class size, and hire more nurses, counselors and librarians.

This, of course, isn't going to end income disparity or cure poverty. But it would make life a bit easier and more hopeful for Angelica Valdovinos, her son Merwinn Rojas and many thousands of other poor families.

Because of Newsom, the gap between the union and the LAUSD is far from unbridgeable. They shouldn't waste the opportunity, now or in the future.

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