Jim Clark: Self-serving teacher unions deprive our most needy kids (opinion)
September 7, 2016
How would you like living in a community where minority and poverty children were not allowed an effective public school education? Sounds impossible in the good old USA, right?
In 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court in Brown vs. Board of Education held that state laws providing "separate but equal" schools for black students were not equal at all, but in fact resulted in all-black schools that were so poor as to deprive students of their rights under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. So that was the end of that, right?
Maybe not. In Democrat-controlled California, powerful teacher unions contrived to get laws passed that provide: that teachers are automatically awarded "permanent employment status" (also called "tenure") after one year of teaching; imposition of unusually harsh requirements for school districts to fire teachers for incompetence; and that in any teacher layoff, the last to be hired would be first out the door irrespective of competence.
As a result of these laws, teachers' job security is a lock. The only thing administrators can do is to transfer incompetent teachers to other schools, an annual ritual sometimes known as "the dance of the lemons."
The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) is so large and ethnically diverse that every year the worst teachers get transferred to the poorest inner city or Barrio schools.
In May 2012, attorneys from the prestigious law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher filed a suit against the State of California on behalf of nine inner city students alleging that the net effect of the above laws was to concentrate "grossly ineffective" teachers in troubled schools, thereby depriving poor and minority students of a "quality education."
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The lawsuit, captioned Vergara vs. California, was defended by the California Attorney General at taxpayer expense. The California Teachers Association and California Federation of Teachers joined in defending against the suit.
Plaintiffs' attorneys presented a gangbuster case. The Oakland (California) and LAUSD school superintendents both testified that the statutes in question did harm students.
Another expert testified that students taught by teachers in the bottom 5% of competence lose 9.54 months of learning in a single year when compared to students of average teachers.
Still another expert testified that 1 to 3% of California teachers (between 2,750 and 8,250) are "grossly ineffective." In June 2014, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that the statutes at issue resulted in education quality disparities that "shock the conscience" and violate the Constitution.
An appeal was filed, and on April 14, 2016, a three judge appellate panel reversed the trial court. The students' lawyers then appealed to the California Supreme Court which, two weeks ago, upheld the Court of Appeal reversal.
If you look at the landmark Brown vs. Board case, which found that substandard education violated the US Constitution, you have to sit there and scratch your head. But Brown was decided in the federal court system. Federal judges are appointed for life, but in California, judges and justices stand for reelection every four years.
California judges well remember that State Supreme Court Chief Justice Rose Bird was recalled from office by California voters; they remember the recent union-financed recall campaigns in Wisconsin.
In my opinion, despite the integrity of Judge Treu (appointed by GOP Governor Pete Wilson) in deciding for the students, the higher court justices overturned the decision because they didn't want to fight a teacher union-financed recall campaign. In California, politics trumps law.
Is that the end of it? Hopefully not. Last week plaintiffs' attorneys wrote in the Wall Street Journal that immediately after the California Supreme Court punted in the Vergara case, they filed an identical challenge in Connecticut federal court captioned Martinez vs. Malloy.
Let's see if the federal courts can rein in self-serving teacher union sponsored laws that deprive our most needy kids of an effective education.
Jim Clark is president of Republican Advocates. He has served on the Washoe County and Nevada GOP Central Committees. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.