National Media Outlets AWOL on Big LA School Board Elections

There’s one thing that seems for sure about today’s big LAUSD school board elections:  national media outlets like the New York Times, Washington Post, WSJ and AP seem to be paying nearly as little attention as local citizens (who are expected to turn out at record low numbers).

Maybe I’ve missed something in my daily news roundups, or perhaps national education reporters are out there in droves today working on stories that will appear later this week. If not, however, it’s too bad, because there are three board seats up for grabs, LAUSD is the nation’s second largest school district, the district is one of few of the biggest cities that still has an elected school board, and the election spending has been eye-popping.

It’s a good thing there’s a bunch of local news outlets covering the race — and seemingly doing a good job of it.

For national reporters, there are lots of ways that could have been used to connect the LA school board races to the rest of the nation. As has happened in New York, pro-charter/reform funding has now eclipsed pro-union campaign budgeting, at least when it comes to official spending. (How long reform funders can keep that up remains unclear, however, and the funding edge hasn’t guaranteed victory.) As has happened in the past in LA and elsewhere, the campaigning being done by independent expenditure organizations has gotten nasty, touching on issues of racism and health issues among other things.

And it’s not like there’s not a lot going on in LA beyond the board race, either. While a Chicago-style strike was looming earlier this year, the district and teachers union are now close to final agreement on a new contract. (The WSJ’s Caroline Porter covered that one: Los Angeles School District Board Approves Teachers’ Union Contract). After a much-publicized effort to bring iPads to every student, the district has revamped its edtech program to make it more flexible and slower. Rents are so damn high in LA that the district is building apartments for teachers to live in. As described in this recent piece in The Awl, the district is one of the leaders in trying to close the school-to-prison pipeline and bring in restorative justice approaches.

And there’s more: LA has one of the largest and most diverse charter school sectors in the nation, while remaining a relatively strong pro-labor city (by current standards). With lots of members who are also school parents, SEIU Local 99 has played an interesting and sometimes independent role from UTLA, the teachers union. And United Way LA has also stepped out further (in a generally pro-reform direction) than most other United Way locals tend to do on education issues.

The silver lining is that the local reporting on school issues is robust in terms of quantity and seems pretty strong right now in terms of quality. Some recent examples:

*LA Daily News story (Low voter turnout could give teachers union-backed candidates edge in LAUSD election), which points out that the low 13 percent turnout (projected) could more than make up the funding disadvantage that the unions face against charter supporters.

*KPCC LA has this video explainer (How PACs are impacting school board elections in LA) complete with a Wikileaks/Sony tidbit related to the publisher of an education news site (LA School Report) I helped found and edit.

*LA School Report has published a ton of stories about the race, including Zimmer ‘damns’ Rodriguez and his supporters for attacks on Kayser.

*The local alternative paper, LA Weekly, has been there as well, including one story about the race being a referendum on charter schools (The Fate of Charter Schools).

*Last but not least, there’s the LA Times (Low turnout — maybe a record — expected for 3 LAUSD board races), plus whatever insight and analysis comes from editorial page writer Karin Klein when the race is done.

So the elections and their implications aren’t going to go entirely unreported — far from it. I just wish that national news outlets would get on the LA bandwagon (though I’m sure I’d complain about it if they actually did).

Disclosures: I helped found and edited LA School Report during its first year of operation. I wrote a 2011 book about a school rescue effort that involved teachers voting to bring in a charter school operator.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.