Education

Teachers Unions Get Huge Win As Court Saves California Tenure Laws

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Blake Neff Reporter
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California public school teachers won a huge victory Monday as the state’s Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal of the landmark Vergara v. California case, thereby upholding an appeals court ruling in the teachers’ favor.

Although merely a state-level case, Vergara caused a huge shake-up to the national education scene when it was first decided in 2014. California judge Rolf Treu ruled that the state’s extremely generous tenure laws were unconstitutional because they undermined children’s right to an education. Under California law, teachers can receive lifetime tenure after just 18 months on the job (including summer vacation). The state also requires schools to follow a “last-in, first-out” policy for teacher layoffs, and makes it very difficult and expensive for tenured teachers to be fired for misconduct.

Taken together, Treu said, these laws allowed low-quality teachers to get and then easily retain jobs for life. These low-quality teachers, he said, were more likely to be concentrated at low-income, heavily-minority schools, and as a result the state was providing unequal educational opportunities to certain groups.

Treu’s decision was a high point in efforts by education reformers to roll back tenure protections as a means of reforming education. But it also appears to have been a high-water mark. In April 2016 a state appeals court overturned the ruling, saying there was ample evidence the laws were bad, but none that they were unconstitutional.

Now, Vergara has finally been killed off permanently. In a split decision Monday, California’s state Supreme Court refused to hear the case, meaning the appellate court’s ruling will be the final one.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers union, expressed relief over the ruling.

“[This] billionaire-funded attack, from its inception, tried to pit our children against their teachers—people who make a difference in our children’s lives every day—rather than understand and solve the real problems ailing public education,” she said in a statement sent to The Daily Caller News Foundation. “Now that this chapter is closed, we must embrace our shared responsibility to help disadvantaged kids by supporting them so they can reach their full potential.”

The Vergara case sparked imitator lawsuits in New York and Minnesota, which are still being litigated.

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