Teachers unions have long been an ally of the Democratic Party, helping then-Senator Obama to his presidential victory in 2008 and re-election in 2012.
Hostilities have begun to emerge, however, with former Obama staffers such as White House spokesman Robert Gibbs pushing back against teachers unions by filing lawsuits to end tenure and outdated job protections for teachers.
High-profile Democrats have recently taken a stand, supporting lawsuits against teachers unions. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan supported the recent Vergara v. California decision. The case struck down California’s tenure system, stating that students were denied their constitutional right to pursue a quality education.
Duncan commented on the case in his blog, “Awarding tenure to someone without a track record of improving student achievement doesn’t respect the craft of teaching, and it doesn’t serve children well.” (RELATED: Democratic Fratricide Follows California Teachers Union Ruling)
New lawsuits will be filed against tenure practices for teachers, starting in New York. The charge is led by Campbell Brown and the PR firm The Incite Agency, which was founded by former Obama Press Secretary Robert Gibbs. Brown, a former CNN anchor, told Politico that she has been spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in the past few months to get her campaign off the ground.
While the Vergara effort cost millions for the legal team, Brown’s campaign will be less costly as it is relying on the pro bono effort of Jay Lefkowitz. Lefkowitz is a former Bush deputy assistant for domestic policy. Ben Labolt, a former Obama campaign spokesperson who is helping to lead the PR push, said the campaign would be modeled after the Vergara litigation.
This campaign may mark a new divide in the Democratic Party regarding education. California Democratic Rep. George Miller wrote regarding the Vergara decision that, “School districts nationwide have policies in place that mirror those challenged in Vergara—policies that constrain the ability of schools to put the very best teachers in front the children that need them most. This is simply indefensible.”
A mother of a seven year old in the Los Angeles school system told Politico, “Whenever there are teachers unions, it always comes off like the unions serve themselves — like it’s not about the education of the children.”
With this negative shift by some prominent Democrats towards teachers unions, groups like the Badass Teacher Association have stepped up to fight. BTA General Manager Marla Kilfoyle recently wrote, “[Duncan's] continued support of corporate education reform, which is dismantling public education in America, furthers our resolve to have him removed from office.”
Teachers unions defend tenure practices by pointing to the efficiency of police and fire departments, saying that using seniority as job protection is the “most objective way of laying off teachers.” Teachers can get tenure in California after only 18 months on the job. On average, two California teachers are dismissed each year out of 275,000 in the public school system.