Wrong Call: A California Judge Picks Big Money over Teachers and Students

A California judge’s ruling Tuesday against due process for teachers is as flawed as the meritless lawsuit filed by a billionaire boys’ club behind it—and the California Teachers Association (CTA) promised to appeal it on behalf of teachers and students.

“Let’s be clear: This lawsuit was never about helping students, but is yet another attempt by millionaires and corporate special interests to undermine the teaching profession and push their own ideological agenda on public schools and students while working to privatize public education,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

The lawsuit, Vergara v. State of California, was filed on behalf of Beatriz Vergara and eight other California students, but the man behind it is Silicon Valley billionaire David Welch. Welch and his ultra-rich cronies are funding the lawsuit for corporate special interests, in yet another attempt to railroad their school privatization agenda through California public schools.

The lawsuit and the judge’s support of it will do nothing to actually help students, and in fact will do a lot to harm them. Stripping teachers of their rights to due process won’t help learning. But it will make it more difficult to attract and retain the best and brightest to the teaching profession—which already loses up to 50 percent of new teachers within the first five years. The plaintiffs also ignore all the research that shows clearly how experience is a key factor in effective teaching, pointed out Van Roekel.

If the plaintiffs really wanted to make a difference for students, instead of attacking the rights of teachers, they’d consider the real problems in California public schools. Since 2008, California funding to public schools has been cut nearly 14 percent, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, leaving teachers without adequate resources and too-large class sizes.

“This lawsuit has nothing to do with what’s best for kids, but was manufactured by a Silicon Valley millionaire and a corporate PR firm to undermine the teaching profession and push their agenda on our schools,” said CTA President Dean E. Vogel.

HOW TO GET IT RIGHT

California isn’t the only state to consider teacher “tenure” this year—but they are the only state to get it wrong. In North Carolina this May, a judge rejected the state’s attempt to repeal due process, after a group of teachers represented by the North Carolina Association of Educators filed suit against a state law passed in late 2013.

That law, which would have required all North Carolina teachers eventually to work on contracts running no longer than four years, would have forced teachers “to give up very basic protections, [while] further undermining the ability of districts to recruit and retain high qualify teachers,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel.

Proponents of these kinds of measures often say they’re about “tenure,” or so-called jobs for life. But, even before the North Carolina law was passed, North Carolina teachers never had jobs for life. Those who have taught for four years and have been deemed proficient are granted “career status,” which provides for due process, or basic fairness, during dismissal or demotion proceedings. Teachers in the state can be dismissed for any number of reasons.

Veteran teacher Rich Nixon, one of the six plaintiffs in the North Carolina suit, said the drumbeat against due process was more about silencing teacher voices than improving public education.

Similarly, no teacher in California has a job for life either. Any teacher can be fired in his or her first two years for no reason. But current law does make sure that teachers aren’t dismissed for unfair or arbitrary reasons, and that budget-based layoffs are implemented objectively, in a process free from favoritism.

On Tuesday, NEA promised its continued support for CTA during the appeals process. Van Roekel also said; “NEA will continue to stand up for students and focus on the ingredients that are proven to help students the most—like supporting new teachers, providing ongoing training, paying teachers a decent salary, and developing reliable evaluation systems to measure teacher effectiveness.”