A man finishes searching through the dumpster bin for cans in Silver Lake, Los Angeles

Los Angeles is Dying in Black and Brown Shades

(Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 70)

It’s now being recorded in history that in the state of California, “reopening” business and houses of worship comes largely on the heels of white protesters in Sacramento and coastal communities such as Huntington Beach even as a second wave of COVID-19 increasingly places Black and Brown bodies at bedsides in intensive care units across South, East, Central L.A., and more.

Many of the bodies in Los Angeles belong to mothers, fathers, grand-mothers and grandmothers, and form no insignificant part of the more than 100,000 people who have lost their lives across the U.S. in less than four months since news of the coronavirus first became headlines.

They look like the man in this column’s photograph, who is sifting for cans through dumpsters along the famed Silver Lake neighborhood, trying to gain something–anything–by which to live to fight another day.

They took their bodies to work each day, and looked past discrimination and second-class citizenship for decades to still “play by the rules” pursuing an American dream they may have once actually believed in.

But history will show this is not an unlikely about-face for the state of California. One only has to recall that for nearly fifty years the golden state has also been the Golden Gulag, to quote Ruth Wilson Gilmore, with its elected officials voting as recently as 2018 to spend over $15 billion of taxpayers’ money to maintain the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation, which as of last year housed less than 127,000 inmates. A little bit of math will show that that’s over $118,000 to house just one inmate.

By contrast, what did the state spend for more than 6.1 million students at its K – 12 schools, even before the pandemic? A pinch above $12,000.

The state’s expenditures do not get better across the rest of its educational institutions. To quote David Crane, a lecturer in Public Policy at Stanford University, California’s $15 billion allotment to incarcerate its population entails:

7x, 9x, 13x and 39x the amounts they’ll spend per K-12, UC, CSU and CCC student.

All we have to do then is remember which students depend most on under-funded public school districts like LAUSD across the state: Black, Brown, Asian, Native, as well as working-class white children. Indeed, the grandchildren of the many bodies now being prepared for the ground in California.

If long before the pandemic we were funding these childrens’ incarceration as adults more than we were funding their education, it says all one needs to know about why Los Angeles is losing its Black & Brown family members so disproportionately right now.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 45

Today marks the 45th day since Governor Newsom’s stay-at-home orders took effect on March 19th, 2020.

And for a second week in a row, protests greeted the steps of the Capitol in Sacramento, as well as in Los Angeles, as more people expressed their vexation with the ordinances, a lack of services, and burgeoning joblessness.

In the seven weeks since March 19th, 2020, over 3.7 million people in California have filed for unemployment claims, according to the LA Daily News.

But a lack of work and the call to continue socially distancing notwithstanding, it looked like a typical Sunny weekend driving past Echo Park this afternoon, with scores of people over the grass surrounding the famous Lake.

At least in Metropolitan L.A., even if the beaches are closed, city-goers have green pastures to enjoy. The fact of the matter is that as spring sunshine looms larger over L.A.’s dry interior, it will only become more difficult to keep the state’s 40 million people indoors. Californians pay taxes, after all, not to mention rent and mortgages, to be able to enjoy the outdoors here.

In L.A., 55% of the city’s residents are renters.

In all likelihood, then, in effort to fend off more unrest from the citizenry, then, Governor Newsom, along with mayor Garcetti should announce significant changes to the ordinances soon.

Since March 19th, Los Angeles’s 10 million residents have counted over 24,000 cases of the coronavirus across its population, though that number, as before, is an under-count due to lack of testing.

By contrast, halfway across the world, in Vietnam, with over 95 million people between its jurisdiction, the country has counted just 270 cases of COVID-19 since the outbreak, and zero deaths to show for it.

That statistic is one that should make every Californian–and indeed every American–pause to ask the following: As the richest economy on the planet, if not the health and future of its work-force, just what is our government invested in? And what’s it waiting for?

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 38

I am driven by the challenge to not only survive, but to thrive all across Los Angeles, even during this most unusual time. The fact of the matter is that I love challenging myself, taking on one task after another, and finding out just how I’ll get through.

I know I’m doing it all for a story, or for a cuento, which I will get to share with many generations for many days to come. To that end, it’s my great pleasure to announce that I’ve officially received my Certificate of Clearance from the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing.

In the long term, the certificate allows me to pursue a teaching credential to become an official teacher in the state of California sometime within the next five years. In the shorter term, it assures that once the students get back to school later this year, I’ll be available to support their community on stand-by as a Substitute teacher.

It boggles my mind to think that I could actually do this. For the longest time, even while I believed that education was a world I was destined to be a part of, I struggled to find exactly what my role in it could be. This was due to a number of factors, including many jobs lost, many other jobs gained, and at some point as a result the notion that perhaps I had very little to offer my community after all.

But like the magical screen-printer from Compton whose talent allows me to pursue another dream for myself through Los Angeles, it’s true that at the end of the day, every human being has something totally unique and valuable to offer the world.

In turn, whether I am a substitute or a fully-certified teacher for students in Los Angeles and across California, what I can be certain of is this: I will give it my all to make our time an extraordinary one.

J.T.

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Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 07

Today it dawned on me that what’s more likely about the proximity of the coronavirus to my community is not that it’s on its way, but that it’s already here, somewhere in the vicinity, albeit undetected.

When I think about that, I realize just how much I’ve got in common with millions of other Americans who’ve little to no access to basic healthcare services. In one of the last estimates, the Wall Street Journal notes that the “average” test or screening for coronavirus can run a patient up to $1,464.00 USD. According to the statistics, more than half of American households–which is to say somewhere around 165 million people–don’t even have an emergency savings account.

While Congress passed legislation to make screenings for coronavirus free of charge earlier this month, healthcare systems all across the U.S. are notorious for still billing people who can’t afford thousands of dollars in fees relating to pre-screenings or other costs that can accrue in a last-minute visit to the hospital.

In turn, even if the stock market surged earlier today in lieu of a stimulus package making its way through Congress promising $1,200 USD to Americans impacted by COVID-19, the fact of the matter is that the check is a one-time payment that’ll barely cover rent for many when it’s due next week. After that, where is our country to go?

Four years ago when the president launched his campaign, were millions of Americans who were out of work and on the verge of eviction, for which his administration would promise only a one-time payment to, as if to bid them good luck and farewell, was that his idea of making America great again?

In the meantime, at least Governor Cuomo in New York has put in place a statewide ban or eviction moratorium for New Yorkers unable to pay rent through the next 90 days due to a lack of income. Governor Newsom, on the other hand, has yet to announce any such plans for renters here in California, of which there are more than 17 million, or nearly 43 percent of the state’s total population.

In Los Angeles, the L.A. City Council canceled meetings for the rest of March a day before a scheduled vote on expansive orders halting evictions. If not for an executive order issued by Mayor Garcetti placing a temporary ban on evictions of people affected by COVID-19, L.A. tenants would have virtually no protections during this time.

I’ve thus got a feeling that more coordinated leadership from our elected officials would be much appreciated by those who’ve financially been hit the hardest by this pandemic. Those people who comprise the community this blog continues to be dedicated to.

J.T.

Pandemic in Los Angeles: Day 02

Today early in the morning I left for a drive.

Governor Newsom and Mayor Garcetti’s orders notwithstanding, I looked forward to some time just between myself and the road. But it was something stranger than I could have anticipated. Although I’d gotten somewhere between five or six hours of sleep before meeting the daylight, which I thought was plenty given the circumstances, I clearly felt out of place and it showed on the highway. My swerving was absent of slickness, and I wasn’t my most precise self as I traded glances between the GPS and the windshield. A destination to anywhere. Away from Los Angeles. Away from the last few days.

I saw through cold mountain tops covered in greenery. The freshness of a few days of rain. The beginning of Spring.

On reaching my destination, an Albertson’s somewhere past the canyons, I was relieved to have made it off the highway in one piece, and relieved that my car didn’t have some sudden breakdown. I could hardly imagine having highway patrol behind me in the middle of all this pandemonium with our state, our nation, our whole way of life and order.

I completed the morning with a breakfast sandwich that was more delicious than I could savor. But I still appreciated it in silence and solitude, even if it vanished within me in less than a minute.

On getting back to Los Angeles, I thought I’d treat myself to some ice cream with some money from work’s final deposit to my account. There was a place up Hillhurst boulevard, Jenny’s Ice Cream, but as it’d turn out, not only was the shop only taking orders online, but pints were priced at 12 dollars a piece, more than I wanted to spend on ice cream.

I decided to visit the Rite Aid closer to home instead, where I picked up a pint of Cookies and Cream for three dollars and some change.

I made it through just a few spoonfuls of the pint, but took comfort in one of my childhood favorite flavors in the midst of so much unfamiliarity.

On returning home, sure enough my parking space for the last few days was taken by another neighbor. But although I missed it, another part of me appreciated knowing that someone else put the space to use.

I’ve come to learn that life is never replaced by the end of life, but only by more life, which is not more of the same, but more of a change. I can only hope to warm up my world, to change enough for those who come after me to be able to do so for themselves when their time arrives, and as they need to do for their environment.

We are living in a time of great change, and I can be grateful for it. I can savor its passing, even if I know there is much adjusting, silence and solitude, before I can appreciate its essentials.

On stepping back inside, I fell into a deep slumber that I could hardly see coming. When I got back up to meet the day, it was a new world again.

J.T.

J.T. Salutes You,

Digang Yuzhuang,
Digang Village, 南浔区 Huzhou, Zhejiang, China

At more than 5,500 miles from home, with fervor in my veins pushing as ever before to unlock the best of myself for the rest of the world to know.

Let’s make it happen, Los Angeles. From Huzhou to Shanghai, let’s give these Cuentos what they need, something more to believe in.

J.T.

Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California (2010)

The first time we analyzed an election in California was in 2017, when we reviewed data from a Special Election in Los Angeles. Data for that election showed a yawning gap between the voting rates for white and non-white voters; at the close of the special election, in a city where less than 50% of the population identified as white, over 64% of ballots turned in belonged to white voters. As we noted in our article:

“Although non-white registered voters make for a combined total of 52% of votes eligible to be cast, post-election day only 37% of ballots turned in belonged to non-white voters.”

As it turns out, the rate of return for that Special Election in L.A. was not an anomaly, or some new and strange phenomenon, but actually just consistent with the history of voting in ‘liberal’ California.

In Racial Propositions: Ballot Initiatives and the Making of Postwar California, Daniel HoSang takes an analysis of California’s voting patterns one step further, exploring the way the predominantly white electorate of the state has voted negatively or against a handful of ballot issues dealing closely with racial or progressive issues in the state during a sixty year period from just after 1945 to the early 2000s.

And why should we care about a handful of ‘old’ voting issues in California? HoSang explains that ballot measures are especially useful for thinking about the state’s role in the inequalities found between its public schools, healthcare, employment and other areas ‘separating’ people of color from wealthier whites due to the way that voting publicizes a particular type of conversation on these issues:

Ballot measures…especially those that receive widespread public attention, create public spectacles where competing political interests necessarily seek to shape public consciousness and meaning.

Put another way: materials like campaign rhetoric, opinion articles, television commercials and other instruments used to support the passage or defeat of certain ballot issues can show the way voting doesn’t ‘just express’ the will of an electorate, but how the process leading up to election day actually creates and develops certain perspectives about what a place like California is, who California is. and who it belongs to.

Because the instruments of direct democracy by definition are intended to advance the will of “the people,”…organized groups and interests must always make their claim in populist rather than partisan terms, thereby defining the very meaning of the common good.

In other words, for HoSang, as anyone familiar with the 2016 Presidential Election should be able to recall, voting issues have a very particular–at times even “nasty”–way of telling voters about “who we are,” what our values are–or what they should be–and how we should act on those values with our votes.

HoSang further contends that the “sensibilities” or logic which the voting issues of Racial Propositions make their appeals to are voters’ “political whiteness.” The phrase “political whiteness” has layered meanings, but essentially, throughout his book it means a degree of privilege and status for white voters that’s not only maintained but also expounded on by voting issues:

[Racial Propositions] draws from and extends both George Lipsitz’s observations about the ‘possessive investment in whiteness’ and Cheryl Harris’s critical account of ‘whiteness as property.’ Whiteness, Lipsitz argues, is ‘possessed’ both literally in the form of material rewards and resources afforded to those recognized as white as well as figuratively through the ‘psychological wages’ of status and social recognition detailed by W.E.B. Du Bois.

Stated more simply, HoSang claims that “whiteness” in the United States isn’t simply a “fixed” identity, where if you’re white you view yourself as white in a “static” or “unchanging” way, but that “whiteness” is highly impressionable, that is, capable of transforming due to external factors like advertising, propagandizing, and voting.

As HoSang takes readers through the first dozen or so pages of Racial Propositions, then, rather than simply restating the term, the author arrests and interrogates scores of materials left by different voting issues in California. The campaigns for Fair Employment, Fair Housing, or the effort to Desegregate Public Schools in California are just a few of the voting issues he discusses, in which he exposes the logic of “political whiteness” at play in the efforts by organizations like the California Chamber of Commerce, the California Realtors Association (CREA), the Parents Associations and other groups that come together to defeat these measures.

That’s right. Did you know that in 1946, voters in California decided against protections for workers facing discrimination in hiring? Or, did you know that in 1964, voters in California decided against protections for non-white residents looking for a home in the state? Did you know that in 1979, California voters decided against racial integration at our schools when they canceled the state’s busing program?

In Los Angeles alone, parents voted by a margin of 73% to put an end to school busing in the city, which was only instituted in 1977 and thus barely getting off the ground.

The vote against desegregating schools was passed through an ordinance known as Proposition 1, and put an end to “mandatory” busing in 1980 (which, of course, was just a few years before my parents would arrive from Latin-America alongside many other Central-American and Asian people. Can anyone say, awkward?).

On the issue of school integration, HoSang points out that placing an end to a program whose stated goal was the integration of the races in the state’s public classrooms was not easy; it required a sophisticated deployment of a language of “racial innocence” which sought to ‘pass the buck’ or responsibility of “fixing” racism onto the desks of the state and away from the children of ‘innocent’ [white] parents:

[Supporters of Proposition 1] held that because white parents and students did not intentionally create the second-class schools to which most racial minorities were consigned nor explicitly support segregated schools as a matter of principle, they could not be compelled to participate in the schools’ improvement.

In other words, in the same way that today the Trump administration likes to argue that the refugee crisis in Central-America should be some other state’s–perhaps Mexico’s–problem, opponents of the school-busing program in late seventies California argued that mixing their white children with Black and Brown kids was unfairly burdening them with a job that was supposed to be the state or federal government’s to do. That is, whenever the state or federal government would get to it. Perhaps never, even, but the point being the same: it was not the parents’ responsibility to account for or address inequality at public schools. They were “the innocent ones.”

But the gift of Racial Propositions is that no matter what the reader may make of the author’s argument on political whiteness, the book is an exhilarating page-turner for anyone interested in a political history of “The Golden State.” This is due in no small part to HoSang’s unsparingly sharp, saber-like writing skills. For his part, the author recognizes none other than James Baldwin as a key influence on his analytical framework:

Whiteness was for Baldwin “absolutely, a moral choice,” an identity derived from and constructed through a set of political convictions. It was by inhabiting a particular political subjectivity—one that rested upon a series of destructive assumptions—that one became white. To embrace the myth of whiteness, he argued, was to “believe, as no child believes, in the dream of safety”; that one could insist on an inalienable and permanent protection from vulnerability.

By the closing pages of Racial Propositions, HoSang’s analysis also makes clear why our political discussions today need to abate a conception of ‘liberal’ California which still dominates the vox populi leading up to 2020: that because California is already a “minority majority” state, it offers a glimpse into the “progressive” future of America, since the U.S.’s “browning” is asumed to lead towards ‘liberalizing’ it.

HoSang notes that if the “majority minority” or “browning” scenario, which became the case in California nearly two decades ago, is what progressives are hinging their hopes on for a more liberal future in the United States, they better look at the numbers:

…in 2000, as California became the first large “majority minority” state in the nation, white voters still constituted 72 percent of the electorate.

And so, as one blogger put it to his fellow readers and historians following another election where that same “majority minority” was hardly seen throughout election day:

…the current inequality between white voters rates and those of people of color when considering the larger voter eligibility pool of the latter group in Los Angeles and California is more than just unfortunate, it’s something of a public safety concern.

So let’s get on it, Los Angeles. Find and read Daniel HoSang’s book, which has full approval from The L.A. Storyteller. Then, send me your book recommendation to see if I can review it next!

J.T.

How LAUSD’s Teacher Problem is a Moment of Truth for Progressive Future of California

Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; PC: Namekian Blast
Protestor on Soto Street and Whittier Boulevard; P.C: Namekian Blast

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” – MLK Jr.

I: Standing with Our Teachers

This week national attention will continue following the United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) over the bevy of tensions with the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) called out in their five-day work stoppage at over a thousand K-12 public schools in the union’s first strike after nearly thirty years.

Demonstrations led by the union throughout the past five days have enjoyed broad support from parents, fellow union workers, and much of the public at large, but their most lasting effect will be the framing of UTLA’s struggle with LAUSD as a matter of ‘the soul of education.’ I would like to consider with readers the essence of education in Los Angeles by posing the following questions:

How is it that the second largest city in the United States, which is renowned globally for its film culture, sports teams, university and star-power, is unable to successfully matriculate less than half a million kids in Los Angeles each year? By extension, how is it that the state of California, known as the fifth largest economy in the world for a gross domestic product of over $2.7 trillion as of 2018, spends just a pinch above $10,000 per student at LAUSD and similar school districts under its governance?

A stroll down the public memory lane of California’s politics can tell us quite about how we arrived to this juncture.

II: Prop 13’s Legacy on Public Education

The year was 1978, and according to state department info, California was just over half of its current size at an estimate of 22 million people within its jurisdiction.

California was also a far whiter place to be, with just over 70% of the state’s population identifying as Caucasian. Latinos in the state made up just over 18% of the population, while Black, Asian and Native Americans each made up less than ten percent of the pie.

Public data also show that in 1978, about 55% of California’s 22 million residents were homeowners. As of the fourth quarter of 2017, of the roughly 40 million people in California today, the percentage of homeownership is actually the same, with 55% of the state’s current residents being homeowners. The rate alone says much about the power dynamics held in the state over the last forty years, but we will look at it later.

For now, all we need to know is that it’s amid these circumstances in 1978 that along came a figure by the name of Howard Jarvis, a businessman and Republican who described himself as “mad as hell” at property tax rates in California. Across a barrage of television ads and interviews in support of the proposition, Jarvis rallied about “a revolution” in California tax laws.

Prop 13 was that revolution, drafted to reduce the amount of property taxes that the state would be allowed to collect from homeowners and ‘commercial property’ owners or corporations by almost 60%.

Proponents of Prop 13 argued that it was a tax relief meant to disentangle home and property owners from unfair tax burdens each year, while opponents countered that the initiative would cripple public goods such as schools, parks, libraries, public transportation and other tax-funded goods.

On June 6th, 1978, despite repeated warnings from then-governor Brown and other civic leaders regarding Prop 13’s effect on the public sector, California home and property owners overwhelmingly passed the bill with nearly 65% of the tally.

As a result, over $7 billion worth of public revenue was taken right out of the budget for the following fiscal year. Needless to say, summer school for 1978, among other programs, was immediately taken off the schedule following the bill’s passage.

If a similar tax reduction were passed in say, June 2020, it would be the equivalent of $27 billion out of the budget, or over a seventh of the $209 billion budget proposed by incoming Governor Newsom earlier this year, which allocates nearly $81 billion towards funding for public education in California.

$27 billion taken out of public education in the 2020-2021 year would wipe out funding for over a third of California’s schools, immediately leaving nearly 2.5 million students with no access to a basic education as mandated under U.S. law.

But the most noteworthy effect of Prop 13 is its hold on taxes in 2019. For example, today a Californian who bought their property in say, 1980, pays the same property tax for their home or commercial space that they paid in 1980.

They can then lease out that space to a Walgreen’s or Starbucks–and again–due to Prop 13, pay the same taxes on the property as they did when Jimmy Carter was president. While this has been good for that owner–saving them tens of thousands and even hundreds of thousands of dollars a year–what they avoid in taxes is money that never goes to support local schools, libraries, public transportation, and other public goods the surrounding population depends on.

Or, as Jennifer Bestor puts it in one interview regarding Prop 13’s tax rate for a certain commercial property in her neighborhood:

“We’ve got about 15,000 square feet of space. And it’s only paying $9,337 a year in property tax. I’m not an assessor but I would expect to pay about $75,000 or more a year in property taxes. Essentially, they’re getting a $65,000 free ride…that’s six and a half kids who could be educated for the amount of money that they’re escaping.”

Prop 13 has set the tone in California for more than forty years since passage. But the property taxes saved for home and business-owners are a major part of how the fifth largest economy in the world ranks 41st in the States on per pupil spending. Now, UTLA teachers beg the question of just how much Californians values a universal education. Although it’s not an outright contest of public education versus private property, Prop 13 makes the two issues inextricably tied.

III: Charter-School Growth

Currently, LAUSD is reported to hold over $2 billion in its surplus or reserves, which the superintendent and several LAUSD board representatives insist are meant to keep the district from bankruptcy over the next three years, particularly due to a growing pension deficit. Nevertheless, UTLA is demanding of the district a significant reduction in class sizes, more resources to schools such as full-time nurses, counselors and librarians, and last but certainly not least: a cap on the growth of charter-schools, which are publicly funded but privately managed schools that “compete with” LAUSD schools for funding.

It’s a significantly different set of demands than those of the last work stoppage by the union, when in the Spring of 1989 UTLA walked out on LAUSD under the leadership of organizer Wayne Johnson. In a recent interview conducted by the L.A. Times with the union’s old organizer, Johnson commented on the difference between his union’s strike and current struggle between UTLA and the district:

“‘UTLA keeps saying it’s not about the money. With us, it was almost 90% about the money.’”

What Johnson means is that most of the tensions between his union and the district centered on wages. But one can argue that it’s still about the money, although this time in terms of LAUSD’s expenditures over the course of the next ten to twenty years. Simply put:

Under the current trend of charter-school growth in Los Angeles, which tend to be non-unionized, contracted-out or ‘freelanced’ schools, LAUSD stands to see a significant reduction in costs for running schools over the long-term. This is because a school that offers no retirement benefits or health-care coverage is far cheaper to run than a school that’s consigned to exactly those benefits.

Supposed proponents of charter schools, like the Washington Post editorial board, argue that charter schools offer “options” to low-income students like those of Los Angeles. But this is an obfuscation of the facts. While it’s true that charter schools offer an alternative for parents to LAUSD’s often outdated and overly bureaucratized system, it’s also true that charter schools are sporadically based, stripped down versions of public schools that operate like different islands to each other.

That is, there is virtually no connection between one independently run charter school and another. This means that in the case a certain charter school fails to meet the needs of a certain student, parents are left with “options” for other charter schools that could function completely differently from their first choice, and which may be similarly under-equipped to meet the needs of their child, or even less so. For the Post to argue that this amounts to “options” then, is hollow and misleading. No wonder it’s owned by Amazon.

Moreover, the argument that charter schools merely “create options” ignores the fact that privately run schools funded by public tax dollars are fundamentally a challenge to the traditional model of public education as a profession for teachers and “a right” for students and their families. There is also thus far no convincing study proving that charter schools in Los Angeles are “on average” better than traditional public schools for matriculating students and their families.

Still, should charter schools bear the total brunt of the UTLA’s ire? One can see why the union would press for more regulation of charters for fear of job security, but are the schools in fact the existential crisis they’re often made out to be?

The fact is that LAUSD’s pro-charter board representatives have thus far refused to draw a line in the sand to relieve the teachers union of their concerns with respect to the growing privatization of the district’s finances through charter-school growth. Now, UTLA has pushed the issue by bringing a national spotlight to the discussion, and whatever extra leg of support Sacramento provides LAUSD as a result of extra public pressure will be by and large thanks to the union’s mobilization.

After all, if Jarvis’s “tax revolt” of 1978 showed us anything, it’s that there’s nothing like a good ole push for ‘revolution’ to stir things up with the status quo, in this case LAUSD and Sacramento’s under-funding of the public good.

Of course, Prop 13’s legacy would ultimately prove to work merely for one sector of the electorate, with consequences for future home and property owners alike. And as Wayne Johnson himself would concede, the gains made by his teacher’s union were largely gains to the benefit of just the teacher’s union. A subsequent set of questions thus emerge:

Exactly what are negotiations between UTLA and LAUSD supposed to accomplish? That is, will the gains be solely for the union to claim as it’s been in previous struggles, or are students, parents and other members of the community in fact a part of the ‘soul of education’, and thus a part of the solution going forward?

IV: The future of Los Angeles and Other Major Cities

Information regarding the costs of the failure to adequately educate young people has long been publicly available. A study released in 2006 points out the financial losses that accrue for the state following the dropout of a single high school student. Similarly, J.T. has noted that as recently as 2008, the graduation rate at LAUSD was only 48%.

In 2019, while the district is closer to an 80% graduation rate, the fact is that the vast majority of its graduating classes are not college-ready and thus less likely to obtain four-year degrees in the six years following the receipt of their high school diplomas.

Simultaneously, today there exist endless studies documenting the disparity between how much California spends on the imprisonment of its population versus what it spends on educating that same population; by extension, the ‘school-to-prison-pipeline’ is a far better known phrase to the electorate than it was just ten years ago.

It’s therefore clear to enough of California’s electorate that there’s a problem with these and other disproportions in the state’s spending, except that since time immemorial there’s been an economy to pay attention to: rent, taxes, gas prices, Twitter and Facebook, and on.

This is not to look over the steps that voters in California have taken over the last decade to reinvest in the public interest, however:

In 2012, Californians passed Prop 30, which temporarily increased sales taxes and raised income taxes on the wealthiest to support “emergency funding” for the state’s school system.

In 2016 and 2017, Los Angeles voters passed Measure M and Measure H, respectively. Measure M increased sales taxes in the county to develop more public transportation in the city, while Measure H increased sales taxes to develop services for L.A.’s homeless population.

In 2018, California fended off Proposition 6, sold as a “gas tax repeal” that sought to reverse a voter-approved tax increase to repair roads and infrastructure throughout the state.

But problems remain looming. 2018 in California was also a year in which rent-control advocates were soundly defeated at the ballot box when nearly 60% of voters rejected Proposition 10, which sought merely to give cities authority to enact local rent-control ordinances in response to California’s growing housing crisis.

This is of concern because as it should be clear by now, the issues of housing and the right to property are fundamentally related to the issue of public education in California. In an analysis of another challenge facing the district over the next few years, that of diminishing enrollment, writer Christopher Weber points out:

“The downward trend in enrollment is due to skyrocketing housing costs that keep families with school-age kids out of the city and the growth of charters — privately operated public schools that compete for students and the funds they bring in.”

Consider one more facet of this political battleground in the Golden State. At nearly 40% of the state’s demographics, today Latinos make up the largest ethnic group in California. Whites, meanwhile, at 37% of the state population continue to shrink in numbers. What’s also true, however, is that the vast majority of Latinos in California are not home or commercial property owners. Many of them utilize public transportation, play soccer at public parks, and check out books and movies at the state’s public libraries. It comes as no surprise to anyone, then, that nearly 75% of the students at LAUSD today are Latinos.

Thus, in 2019, demographically speaking, it’s no longer Jarvis’s California. But structurally, the system he and his contemporaries left behind still holds, creating our present dilemmas with regards to the public sector. Except that if there was any doubt as to whether we’re ready to confront this past for the future of the state, the past week should make it clear: the conversation on justice through education is not going away any time soon; it’s here to stay.

Or, as one Mr. Razo, of Telfair Elementary in Pacoima, recently noted to the L.A. Times:

“We have so many entertainment companies and professional sports teams,” Razo said. “I went to a Rams-Packers game and the ticket was $350. What if just 10 cents from every sports ticket sold went to public education?

J.T.

Education in Los Angeles: A Look at the Numbers

LAUSD chart graduates_

In 2008 the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) was reported to have graduated only 48% of its class for the 2007-2008 school year. In 2017, a study tracking the college enrollment rate of that same 2008 class found that within twelve months of their graduation, 58% of LAUSD’s high school graduates enrolled in a two-year community college or four-year university. The study goes on to show that by six years later, however, only 25% of those graduates would have their four-year college degree.

Public data also shows that in the 2007 – 2008 school year, the total number of students enrolled at LAUSD was estimated to be just over 694,288 students. Accounting for a graduation rate of 48% then, we can estimate that at the end of that school year, only 333,258 of those enrolled left the schools with their diplomas.

Applying the data from UCLA’s study showing the 25% college success rate for those students by six years later, we can also determine that of the 2008 high school class, of nearly 700,000 students, only 83,314.5, or 8.3% of them would successfully complete a college or a university education six years after their graduation from high school.

Today in Los Angeles, the graduation rate for this same public school district is cited as being at 77% as recently as the 2015 – 2016 school year. But the improved rate is not indicative of the district’s struggle to improve educational and college readiness at the schools.

For example, UCLA’s report also shows that in the 2013 – 2014 school year, less than a third of the class of 2014 graduated from the district with an A or B grade point average, implying that over two thirds of the class left the district with C or D grade point averages.

UCLA’s study goes on to show that while the difference between a C and a D grade point average might not seem like much, students with only a D grade point average are five times LESS LIKELY to enroll in a two or four-year college.

In Los Angeles today then, for a new generation of high school students, a district with an underwhelming track record in qualitative education and college preparation is only one of their challenges. Lest we forget: these students are attending L.A.’s public schools at the same time that a real estate boom in Los Angeles continues unabated, driving up the cost of living, evicting working class families en masse, and leading many either to seek shelter somewhere along L.A.’s Skid Row district, or straight out of town.

In March 2017, the Sacramento Bee reported that similarly to the way Latin American countries ‘export’ their human labor to the U.S., the Golden State is also a human transporter, that is, of its working class, to states like Texas and Oklahoma.

According to the report, “California exports more than commodities such as movies, new technologies and produce. It also exports truck drivers, cooks and cashiers. Every year from 2000 through 2015, more people left California than moved in from other states.”

In Los Angeles, with a school district where less than 9% of students obtained a college degree six years after their high school education, the work options are limited. And with the cost of living rising, Los Angeles and California as places for such people to live are also limited.

In the same report, the Bee notes that out of the state’s 58 counties, it’s been in the wealthiest two where there’s been the greatest number of expulsions: “the state’s exodus of poor people is notable in Los Angeles and San Francisco counties, which combined experienced a net loss of 250,000 such residents from 2005 through 2015.”

I wonder of those 250,000, just how many were students at LAUSD at some point.

This is Los Angeles. And it is ongoing. That is, until we place our foot on the dial.

J.T.