By MAGGIE SEVERNS | 8/28/14 9:34 PM EDT Updated: 8/29/14 4:23 PM EDT
A Los Angeles judge on Thursday affirmed a tentative June ruling that struck down five laws governing job protections for teachers in California.
The final decision in the headline-grabbing tenure suit sets the stage for the appeals process. Now all eyes are on state Superintendent Tom Torlakson: He is a named defendant in the case and said Friday he will ask the state attorney general to seek appellate review.
The Nov. 4 election pits him against education reformer — and fellow Democrat — Marshall Tuck. With Tuck eager to make the case a campaign issue, the Vergara v. State of California decision could take center stage in the big money race.
Torlakson “and other Sacramento insiders should do the right thing for California kids and drop any plans to appeal the ruling,” Tuck said in a statement. “No student should ever have to go to court to get a quality education — and no elected official should ever put bureaucratic laws ahead of students’ interest.”
Torlakson has support from teachers unions — which said Thursday they plan to appeal — and the Democratic establishment.
Attracting and retaining the right teachers requires “the right mix of tools, resources and expertise,” Torlakson said in June. “Today’s ruling may inadvertently make this critical work even more challenging than it already is.”
After the initial decision, Tuck, a former charter school executive, launched a petition drive urging Torlakson to not appeal.
“Stop wasting taxpayer resources defending a broken system,” Tuck said in an open letter sent to Torlakson.
A group of students who said their education suffered because of inadequate teaching brought the lawsuit. In California, teachers can gain tenure after less than two years in the classroom, earlier than in many states, and removing them can be a drawn out, costly process.
The judge ruled that the tenure and other job protection laws for teachers violate the state constitution’s guarantee that children receive “basic equality of educational opportunity.”
Unions decried the decision.
“Sadly, there is nothing in this opinion that suggests a thoughtful analysis of how these statutes should work,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said.
But federal Education Secretary Arne Duncan took a more positive tone: Duncan said the decision “presents the opportunity” for California to “build a new framework” and fix teacher quality problems.
The California Federation of Teachers and the California Teachers Association said the ruling doesn’t address the daily issues teachers face in the classroom.
“In ignoring all the real problems of public education, this is simply an anti-union attack masquerading as a civil rights issue,” CFT President Joshua Pechthalt said in a statement.
The plaintiffs were represented by a powerhouse legal team hired by the nonprofit Students Matter, a reform group founded by Silicon Valley entrepreneur David F. Welch.
“We are thrilled that the court has finalized its landmark ruling in Vergara. Judge [Rolf M.] Treu’s inescapable findings — that California’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff statutes are harming students, and that poor and minority students are bearing the brunt of the harm — are supported by an overwhelmingly compelling trial record,” said Theodore J. Boutrous, lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
Meanwhile, both Students Matter and the Partnership for Educational Justice, which is affiliated with former CNN anchor Campbell Brown, expressed interest in bringing similar cases in other states.
They’re starting in New York, where Students Matter and the Partnership for Educational Justice have both filed recent lawsuits. The case supported by Students Matter, Davids v. New York, challenges several job protections embedded into state statute, including “last in, first out,” which generally requires districts to lay off teachers in reverse seniority order. The lawsuit was filed by Mona Davids, head of the New York City Parents Union.
Unlike Vergara, it does not directly challenge the state’s tenure law.
The Davids case will be argued by several members of the Vergara team, including Boutrous. Students Matter will provide legal and public relations support to the 11 plaintiffs, who are public school students and their families.
Plaintiffs in the second case, Wright v. New York, filed a complaint in July that challenges both LIFO and the law under which teachers are granted or denied tenure after three years.
When Brown announced the lawsuit, New York State United Teachers President Karen Magee called it “a politically motivated attack” against teachers in the state.
Caitlin Emma contributed to this report.
Read more: http://www.politico.com/story/2014/08/judge-sets-up-battle-over-teacher-protections-110438.html#ixzz3Clocw2Ez