Unions Trying to Shut Down STEM School Before It Even Opens

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Unions are trying to shut down a proposed Los Angeles state-run science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) school, local media reported Monday.

If unions are not successful, the school would become the first state public school to focus on teaching STEM to low-income kids from across the state, according to LA School Report. The bill, AB 1217, authored by state Assemblyman Raul Bocanegra and co-sponsored by state Sen. Anthony Portantino, proposes building the school to serve 800 students in grades six through 12 and running it as a public school rather than a charter or magnet school.

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“We are seeing a growing number of good-paying, STEM-sector jobs in California that require advanced STEM degrees,” Bocanegra said in a press release. “Developing a rigorous, high-quality state-sponsored STEM school will give students, regardless of their background, the tools to succeed in STEM fields,” Bocanegra added.

The school would receive state funds as well as donations from philanthropic foundations, individuals, and STEM industry partners, Bocanegra noted.

We are “committed to working with the unions and others who are opposed, like the California School Boards Association,” Bocanegra and Portantino confirmed at a July 12 hearing where Senate Education Committee members voted to advance the bill. “I can tell you there’s a good-faith effort going on to try to address the serious concerns,” Portantino said, expressing his willingness to compromise with unions that are not in favor of the bill.

The proposal faces serious opposition, however, from California’s teachers unions, which wield powerful lobbying weight and have successfully stopped similar proposals. The California Teachers Association, California Federation of Teachers, and United Teachers Los Angeles (UTLA) all oppose the bill.

“There is already a process for charter schools to get authorized,” UTLA Elementary Vice President Gloria Martinez said. “It does not make sense to create a one-time carve-out system.”

But the proposal isn’t only facing opposition from unions. The California state superintendent who would need to approve the school opposes the bill. The committee’s analysis declared that the school structure resembled that of a charter school closely enough that it should receive approval from a state superintendent rather than just the schools’ governing board. Per the committee’s suggestion, the bill’s authors allowed for the amendment.

“It’s an unusual step for the state to be authorizing something like this, that is a different model than schools we have for the deaf and blind,” said state Sen. Ben Allen, chair of the Education Committee.

It is not yet clear whether the bill will receive the final approval it needs to open its doors to students.

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