The leading Los Angeles teachers union is demanding that the city pass sweeping, new wealth taxes aimed at millionaires and billionaires as a condition to reopen city schools in September.

The United Teachers of Los Angeles (UTLA) called for California to implement both a wealth tax on unrealized capital gains for the state’s billionaires, and surtaxes on state residents who earn more than $1 million a year, to offset the safety measures needed to safely reopen the city’s schools. The two measures would result in a combined $14.5 billion a year in tax revenues, the union said in a white paper.

Until such measures are met, UTLA recommended keeping L.A. schools closed and urged that resources be refocused on “robust distance learning practices for fall.” Some 83% of  teachers polled July 10 said that schools should not physically reopen August 18, UTLA said.

“It is time to take a stand against Trump’s dangerous, anti-science agenda that puts the lives of our members, our students and our families at risk,” said United Teachers Los Angeles President Cecily Myart-Cruz in a statement.

“We all want to physically open schools and be back with our students, but lives hang in the balance,” she added. “Safety has to be a priority. We need to get this right for our communities.”

The union estimated the costs to implement measures it said were necessary to safely restart Los Angeles schools could surpass $250 million, funds it said would be available if “federal, state and local governments are willing to finally prioritize pupils over plutocrats.”

In contrast, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged school systems to re-open this September and argued that keeping children at home poses a greater health risk than the coronavirus. Children are less likely to become infected with Covid-19, and if they do, they’re less likely to become symptomatic and spread the virus, the AAP argued in a statement in late June.
The AAP “strongly advocates that all policy considerations for the coming school year should start with a goal of having students physically present in school. The importance of in-person learning is well-documented, and there is already evidence of the negative impacts on children because of school closures in the spring of 2020,” the group said in a statement.

The union identified robust testing, contract tracing, sterilization regimens and physical distancing in the classroom necessary health and safety measures to ensure schools can operate safely amid the coronavirus pandemic.

At the local level, the union called for the Los Angeles police to be defunded, saying “police violence is a leading cause of death and trauma for Black people, and is a serious public health and moral issue.”

UTLA also called for a moratorium on new charter schools and accused charter schools operating in the city of “double-dipping” by accepting federal CARES act funding while also receiving state funding, which was not impacted by the pandemic.