South LA teacher earns national acclaim for ethnic studies advocacy

The push to make ethnic studies a staple within the California education system received nationwide attention when a South Los Angeles teacher was named the National Education Association’s Social Justice Activist of the Year.

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Opinion:  Education for the 99%: how the top 1% is destroying public education

By Jose Lara, Social Justice Educator, Community Organizer, United Teachers Los Angeles

imageWith the top 1% in full control of education policy and responsible for creating a financial crisis that is defunding our schools and eliminating essential programs such as Adult Education and Early Childhood Education, we must join together as the 99%. We must take back control of our schools from corporate interests and make those responsible for the financial crisis in this country pay, so we can fully fund our schools.

Billionaires like Eli Broad, Bill Gates, Philip Anschultz, and companies like NewsCorp, and Goldman Sachs all contribute to so-called education “reform” efforts across the country. Here in Los Angeles, they all directly fund the LA Mayor’s Coalition for School Reform. Yes folks, the 1% have more influence and control in our schools than parents, students and professional educators, who have the MOST interest in the success our children.

Writer Joanne Barkan carefully outlines how the wealthy have gained so much influence in her article, “Got Dough, How Billionaires Rule Our Schools.”

Whether it is through grants, donations or political contributions, no one has more power and influence in our schools than the Corporations and the Ultra Wealthy 1%. In Los Angeles, Billionaire Eli Board has trained and now pays the salaries of LAUSD top executives. The 1% has access to public education decision makers that only money can buy.

Moreover, what has the 1% done with their influence? They have increased the amount of standardized testing, approved new corporate charter schools, taken away adequate resources from public schools and then blamed teachers and unions with the failure of their own making. This has lead to a narrowing of the curriculum, a de-emphasis on arts, health, career and industrial education and a heavy emphasis on standardized testing.

But it does not stop there.

The 1% has no interest in closing the gap between the rich and the poor. With the onslaught of private career and technical colleges, the 1% would rather close down public Adult Schools to push adult students into predatory private schools, where they can make a profit.

But there is hope.

The 99% movement has inspired a new wave of activism and organizing that has not been seen in a long time. In the Fall of 2011, educators in Los Angeles came together and joined with the #Occupy movement that has swept the country and began a campaign to #OccupyLAUSD. Teachers from across the city began to set up tents, hold general assemblies and protest the lack of funding for public education and the 1% influence in Public Education. The first day of the encampment hundreds of people from Occupy LA and teachers held a march and rally. However, the encampment almost did not make it through the night as LAUSD School police came and tried to evict the teachers.

Over 15 police arrive to evict the teachers from the encampment. Jose reaches out through Twitter for help.

On the first night of our encampment at OccupyLAUSD outside LAUSD headquarters (also known as “Beaudry” for the name of the street), suddenly school police showed up with the intention to evict our group, which was very small on the first night. While we negotiated with them to buy more time, I reached out across the Twitterverse to the media and our friends at OccupyLA. The standoff became quite tense, but many people started retweeting us—and within an hour a contingent of 100 people from OccupyLA marched over from City Hall to the LAUSD School Board, swelling our ranks. Spanish media outlets also showed up. At that point the police backed down, and left us alone. We had won our first victory with OccupyLAUSD! People began chanting, Beaudry is ours!

Using social media, grassroots mobilization and outreach strategy, #OccupyLAUSD quickly joined the network on hundreds of Occupy sites across the country. Just like the Occupy Wall Street movement protested Wall Street greed, the #OccupyLAUSD campaign protested Wall Street greed and influence in our schools.

The #OccupyLAUSD Campaign ended with a huge protest bringing together labor leaders and teachers from across the state. This included local presidents of the largest teachers unions in California, including the Oakland Teachers Assoc, United Teachers of San Francisco, the San Diego Education Assoc. and United Teachers Los Angeles. The #OccupyLAUSD campaign completely changed the discourse around inadequate school funding and exposed the corporate greed and influence in the Los Angeles Unified School District. For the first time in years, we put corporate influence in our school on the defensive.

The Occupy movement reignited a fire for educational justice and reminded us once again that organized people beat organized money any day of the week.

The resistance movement against defunding pubic education has already regained traction in Los Angeles. It has been spurred by threatening cuts to eliminate Adult Education and Pre-school programs. Both programs directly serve the working class community in LA and both have had massive amount of support from the community. Over the course of the past month there have been numerous protests organized by parents and teachers. The organizing in support of Adult Education has been particularly impressive as thousands across the city make phones calls, write letters and join in many of the protest rallies.

Fighting for educational justice for the 99% has just begun. We must continue to fight against budget cuts to essential educational programs and support Tax initiatives like the California Millionaires Tax, that make the top 1% pay for the economic crisis they created. We must take back our schools and not allow the 1% to destroy public education. United we win!

Jose Lara is a community organizer, adult education activist and a leader of #OccupyLAUSD, a grassroots campaign linking the 1% influence in privatizing public education.
Jose is a guest blogger in the discussion series “Cut the Excuses, Not Education! How Is Fighting the Proposal to Eliminate Adult Education in L.A.” See the full discussion schedule online. Participate by posting your comments and questions in the box below and signing’s petition.

This blog post was originally published on the National Coalition for Literacy website.

OPINION: Why South Central L.A. needs Prop 24


imageCuts in public services have devastated the South Central community. As a teacher at Santee High School I have personally seen these devastating effects in my classroom. Our class sizes are larger than ever, many of our newest promising educators have been let go, school supplies are low, and the uncertainty of the future has our entire school community on edge.

South Central is like many other urban areas of California, forgotten by the politicians and their big business donors and left to fend for itself.

The abandonment by city leadership has lead to post-industrial decay in South Central. Lack of affordable housing has many families renting out rooms and multiple families living in single family homes. I often hear stories of residents forgoing trips to the doctor for lack of health insurance. The poorest in our communities have been hardest hit by this recession and cuts to public services have been devastating.

This is why we need Proposition 24.

Proposition 24 will stop special tax loopholes for big business that are set to take effect next year. That equals $1.3 billion in lost revenue to the state and a huge corporate giveaway to big business. And that $1.3 billion is a much-needed pile of cash that could be allocated to affordable housing, health care, and education. Instead of giving yet another bailout to these corporations, we should invest in what our community needs: education, housing and health care programs. We should use that money to invest in our children.

Proposition 24 will not solve all our problems, but for places like South Central Los Angeles, it’s a step in the right direction.

For more on Proposition 24, visit the California Voter Guide.


YES vote on this measure means: Three business tax provisions will return to what they were before 2008 and 2009 law changes. As a result: (1) a business will be less able to deduct losses in one year against income in other years, (2) a multistate business will have its California income determined by a calculation using three factors, and (3) a business will not be able to share tax credits with related businesses NO vote on this measure means: Three business tax provisions that were recently changed will not be affected. As a result of maintaining current law: (1) a business will be able to deduct losses in one year against income in more situations, (2) most multistate businesses could choose to have their California income determined based only on a single sales factor, and (3) a business will be able to share its tax credits with related businesses.


PRO: Prop. 24 stops $1.7 billion in new special tax breaks for wealthy, multi-state corporations. They get unfair tax loopholes without creating one new job while small businesses get virtually no benefit. Public schools, healthcare and public safety should come before tax loopholes. Vote YES on 24—the Tax Fairness Act. CON: CALIFORNIA NEEDS JOBS, NOT A JOBS TAX! Prop. 24 doesn’t guarantee $1 for our classrooms and REDUCES long-term revenues for schools and vital services. It would hurt small businesses, tax job creation, send jobs OUT of California—costing us 144,000 jobs. Families can’t afford 24’s new taxes. No on 24!

Other stories on Proposition 24:

Proposition 24 would change tax laws for businesses

VIDEO BLOG: Menlo Adult School to be shut down

VIDEO BLOG: Empty chairs for empty teaching positions

To protest the 6,300 pink slips sent out to LAUSD teachers on March 15th, UTLA members set out empty chairs in front of the district headquarters. Each chair displayed a pink slip representing a teacher or student services professional.

Provided by Santee Education Complex teacher and social activist Jose Lara (below)





VIDEO BLOG: Day of Action march downtown

Jose Lara is a teacher at Santee Education Complex. Read and watch more from Jose Lara.

OPINION: Why I march for education today

By Jose Lara, Social Justice Educator, Santee Education Complex High School

imageEducation is a field I love, but currently it is in crisis. The State of California continues to make cuts in education while local school boards continue to raise class sizes, cutting teachers, art programs, and simultaneously dismantling Adult, Career and Technical Education.

I will be marching on March 4th because I wish to take a stand for quality public education. I wish to show my students that education is worth fighting for that they should not take cuts sitting down. I hope to model for my students, show them the importance of civic engagement and encourage them to become scholar-activists. It has never been more important for educators to take a stand. The dignity of our profession, the rights of our students, and the fate of our public schools depends on it.

“Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” — Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

From today’s march:

From United Teachers Los Angeles: Thursday, March 4th: a Statewide Day of Action:

On March 4, UTLA members hand out informational flyers to parents

UTLA members are encouraged to attend one of four after school rallies at the following locations:

Downtown Los Angeles location
4:00 pm (Gather at 5th and Hill by Pershing Square)
4:30 pm-6:00 pm (March and rally at Reagan State Building-300 South Spring Street)

UCLA location
4:30 pm-5:30 pm ( Rally at Bruin Plaza)

San Fernando Valley location (Cal State Northridge)
3:45 pm ( Gather in the quad)
4:15 pm (March around CSUN)
5pm-5:30 pm (Unity action and rally at CSUN quad)

Long Beach rally location
4:15 pm (Gather and rally at Wilson High School gymnasium- 4400 East 10th Street, Long Beach)

VIDEO BLOG: Starting the dialogue about social justice in education

By Jose Lara, a teacher at Santee Education Complex

This is the first in a series of videos that I will be producing bi-monthly. I hope to engage people in a dialogue surrounding social justice in education and community organizing. Although I live and work in one of the most oppressed parts of Los Angeles, every day I am inspired by the resiliency of my community. Once we unite and become organized I know that there is nothing that can stop our demand for justice! This is our struggle. I hope this can begin the dialogue.

Videos are produced with a low-cost hand held digital video camera and incorporate the perspective of other LAUSD teachers, as well as South L.A. students, parents and community activists. Using YouTube, Facebook and Twitter to spread the message, these video blogs will bring to the fore ideas and initiate discussions that the South L.A. community needs to have. To view the video blog steam, please visit Jose Lara’s author page.

Become a fan of Jose Lara on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

More from Jose Lara: Teachers gather at candlelight vigil

Teachers gather at candlelight vigil

By Jose Lara, a teacher at Santee Education Complex

On Tuesday, teachers gathered just before dawn to hold a candlelight vigil in front of LAUSD. Teachers are out in force to show support for teacher reform plans that were overwhelmingly voted for by parents and community members. Teachers now want the school board to respect the community vote and give community control of the schools!