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News Brief: LA Teachers, Government Shutdown And Its Impact On FBI


Big news here around LA. Students attending school in Los Angeles today will find something different - teachers in the classrooms.


A six-day teacher strike is over. The educators were demanding better pay, smaller class sizes and other changes. Support for this deal was overwhelming, although different teachers see different implications for them. NPR asked a few what they thought.

JENNIFER LIEBE-ZELAZNY: I am actually pretty excited about our new, tentative agreement.

TERESA RIVAS-NASOQEQE: Feeling a little uneasy and not fully satisfied with the agreement.

LIEBE-ZELAZNY: We are going to have smaller class sizes. That's big.

JESENIA CHAVEZ: For my class setting, the number of students actually increased.

RIVAS-NASOQEQE: But I'm excited in moving forward to see what else we can accomplish as a collective.

INSKEEP: Those are teachers Jennifer Liebe-Zelazny, Teresa Rivas-Nasoqeqe (ph) and Jesenia Chavez.

GREENE: All right. Kyle Stokes is the education reporter from member station KPCC and joins me here in our studios at NPR West. Kyle, good morning. You've been covering a six-day strike, and it's over.

KYLE STOKES, BYLINE: Oh, boy, I'm tired.

GREENE: I bet you are. Well - so it sounds like from those voices that there are still some - a lot of questions, but there is a deal. Teachers are going to get back to the classroom. What is in the deal? What are the details here?

STOKES: Well - so the deal includes a raise for teachers. That wasn't a big question. They had been looking for a 6 1/2 percent raise, but they've been - it looked like they were going to accept the 6 percent raise the district has been offering for months. It also looks like the teachers are going to get the hiring of new staff of nurses, of counselors and school librarians that they had been asking for, for instance. The union says that the district will hire enough nurses now to guarantee a nurse in every school five days a week, which is something that not a lot of schools have right now. Coming up in just a few years is when that's going to be in place.

The big breakthrough, David, though, was on class sizes, that the district agreed to try and hit some very ambitious targets for reducing class sizes here in Los Angeles schools. But they're going to do it over 3 1/2 years instead of the kind of one-year window that they'd been trying to hit before.

The other piece of the class size deal is that the school district gave up the power that it had in the old contract to essentially raise class sizes almost whenever they want because class size reduction is very expensive. And the district felt like they needed this flexibility in order to save money in the event of a fiscal crisis. The district gave that up, and the union found that old provision very toxic. They find that concession to be a huge one.

GREENE: All right. A lot more nurses, guarantees of smaller class size - these things cost money. The district had been saying they don't have the money. Did they come up with more money? What happened?

STOKES: Well - so part of this is still being costed out. It's still not entirely clear how much the entire deal is going to spend. And that's going to be calculated over the next couple of days. But on the class size and staffing pieces, part of the way that the district is going to pay for it is by spreading this out over 3 1/2 years, again, instead of that one-year window we had been talking about before.

But what also appears to be happening, David, is that the district is taking what Mayor Eric Garcetti called the leap of faith, that the funding is going to materialize somewhere, that either the state is going to come in down the road with more funding, that maybe local voters are going to raise their own property taxes. It is that leap of faith that seems to be what's going to move forward here. And that's going to be the way that the district is going to make this work is what it appears.

GREENE: It feels like a big moment of coming together. Is that what teachers and others involved are saying to you? Or is there still some sort of uncertainty out there?

STOKES: A big moment of coming together, yeah. There's a lot of relief certainly among parents that this is - that this deal is done.


STOKES: Teachers obviously feeling very empowered, like they got a lot done with this deal, and some actually, a minority apparently, felt like they maybe could have gotten more. But we saw overwhelming majorities vote in favor of this tentative agreement and look like they're ready to accept it.

GREENE: All right. Strike over in Los Angeles, although teachers in Denver are planning to strike beginning on Monday. So we're going to have to keep our eyes on that. Kyle Stokes from member station KPCC covers education here. Kyle, thanks.

STOKES: You're welcome.


INSKEEP: This week, the Senate will vote on two bills to end the partial government shutdown.

GREENE: That's right, two bills. One of them is backed by Republicans. The other is backed by Democrats. What the bills have in common is that neither is expected to actually pass. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell spoke for the Republican option.


MITCH MCCONNELL: The proposal outlined by President Trump is the only one currently before us that can be signed by the president and immediately reopen the government.

GREENE: Democratic leader Chuck Schumer said that bill has no chance.


CHUCK SCHUMER: The president's proposal is one-sided, harshly partisan and was made in bad faith.

GREENE: OK. Now Democrats, then, have backed the same measure that passed the Senate by unanimous consent back in December, a bill that has no funding for a border wall. That one died after President Trump said he wouldn't sign it.

INSKEEP: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith is following this story. Tamara, good morning.


INSKEEP: How are these bills different, other than one having border funding - border wall funding and the other not?

KEITH: Well, that's the big one. But the other difference is, really, one is simply a clean bill to fund the government for a short period of time. It would basically - the Democratic bill basically reopens the government for a couple of weeks to allow negotiations to continue. President Trump's bill, the Republican bill, is based on the remarks that the president delivered over the weekend. It includes wall funding, other border security funds. It also would have a temporary extension for the DACA program for young people known as DREAMers, as well as some other extensions for other immigrant groups. And it makes some pretty significant changes to the way the asylum works. And that, Democrats say, is a poison pill that is built into that measure.

INSKEEP: That - it's one of the parts that Chuck Schumer would refer to as being bad faith. So does voting on these two bills, neither of which seems likely to get 60 votes and pass, advance the process in any way?

KEITH: Well, sometimes taking votes that fail proves what can pass and what can't pass, and then they can move on. So in that sense, it might advance things. I mean, at least they're voting on something - right? - which they haven't done much of on the Senate side or any of on the Senate side as long as this shutdown has been going on. But does it resolve the underlying problem? No. The underlying problem is that President Trump doesn't want to end the shutdown - that he said he would be proud to own - until he has funding for a border wall. And Democrats say they don't want to start negotiating over a border wall until the government is reopened.

INSKEEP: Are lawmakers or the White House feeling increasing pressure?

KEITH: I think that they are. The pain is growing from the shutdown as it continues. Admiral Karl Schultz, the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard, posted a video last night on Twitter. He says we're five-plus weeks into this government lapse, and your anxiety and your non-pay, you as members of the armed forces should not be expected to shoulder this burden.


KARL SCHULTZ: I find it unacceptable that Coast Guard men and women have to rely on food pantries and donations to get through day-to-day life as service members.

KEITH: And then he made sure that they knew about assistance that's available. That is not a good look.

INSKEEP: No, hearing a commandant say that this is an unacceptable situation. Tamara, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome.

INSKEEP: That is NPR's Tamara Keith.

Now, the shutdown is also affecting the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

GREENE: Yeah. Thomas O'Connor is the president of the FBI Agents Association. He says that the shutdown is making it more difficult for the agency to do its job to protect the people of the country from criminals and terrorists. It sounds like the shutdown is affecting a lot of important operations at the agency, including going after terrorists, drug traffickers, also gangs.

INSKEEP: NPR justice reporter Ryan Lucas is here to tell us more. He's in our studios in Washington. Ryan, good morning.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: So how is it that this shutdown affects the FBI?

LUCAS: Well, according to the FBI Agents Association, the impact of the partial shutdown is pretty significant on them. The association represents around 14,000 active and retired FBI special agents, so they have representation members in all of the field offices across the country. And the group released a report yesterday that outlines how this lack of funding is hindering the FBI's work. It's based off of anonymous comments from members. And they say that it's having an impact on everything from training to operations and investigations. And the kinds of investigations that are taking a hit are serious. We're talking about sex trafficking, crimes against children, counterterrorism, cybersecurity, violent gangs, drug traffickers, everything. The Agents Association also says that this may have a long-term impact on the FBI on its ability to recruit and retain the kind of talent that it needs to do its job.

INSKEEP: Oh, sure, because it's embarrassing to have people not paid. But I want to understand this a little better. I presume that a lot of FBI agents are considered essential personnel. They're not being paid, but they're told to show up to work, meaning they can investigate things. But they're sending word they're unable to investigate even though they're on the job. Why would that be?

LUCAS: Well, one thing that stands out in this report again and again is agents saying that they no longer have the money to pay confidential sources who are critical to their investigations.

INSKEEP: Oh, who are not necessarily willing to wait till the end of the shutdown to get paid, I suppose.

LUCAS: When sources aren't getting paid, sources can dry up. Sources can go silent. And these sorts of sources are used in a lot of the work that the FBI does, stuff that I mentioned earlier - the counterterrorism cases, counterintelligence, gang, drugs. One example from the report comes from an agent who says that they're investigating a street gang that's pushing a lot of methamphetamine and heroin. And the agent says that their probe has been undermined because they don't have money to pay their confidential sources. And they also don't have money to make controlled purchases of drugs, which is something that they often use in narcotics investigations. Now...

INSKEEP: I'm just imagining an undercover officer having to stand there and say, listen; I can pay you for this. I just need to wait a couple weeks or maybe a little longer. No, go on, go on. I'm sorry.

LUCAS: (Laughter) Now, you also have to remember that the FBI doesn't work on its own. It can't do all of what it needs to do in order to carry out investigation on its own. It works closely with state and local law enforcement. The Agents Association says that in some cases that sort of cooperation has been hampered because they can't pay those partners for work on their joint investigations. And they also say that grand jury subpoenas are being delayed because there are no funds for them, and staff at U.S. attorneys' offices are furloughed.

INSKEEP: How are unpaid agents personally affected?

LUCAS: It's really hurting them, according to the FBI Agents Association. There are even food banks that have been set up at some of the field offices to try to help people make ends meet.

INSKEEP: OK. Ryan, thanks so much, really appreciate it.

LUCAS: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Ryan Lucas. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.