Should California Teacher Laws Have Been Found Unconstitutional?

A court found that laws governing teacher tenure and dismissal violate student's rights.

Attorneys take questions from the media as they are joined by nine California public school students who are suing the state to abolish its laws on teacher tenure, seniority and other protections, during a news conference outside the Los Angeles Superior Court on Jan. 27, 2014.

Nine California public school students sued the state to abolish its laws on teacher tenure, seniority and other protections.

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California teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional, a Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday. The case, Vergara v. California, was brought by education nonprofit Students Matter to challenge several provisions of the California Education Code.

The plaintiffs said that the laws violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution because they resulted “in grossly ineffective teachers obtaining and retaining permanent employment, and that these teachers are disproportionately situated in school serving predominately low-income and minority students.” They argued that these statutes damaged their right to an equal education by preventing them from obtaining a quality education and subsequently harming their futures.

Judge Rolf Treu agreed, writing Tuesday, “This court finds that both students and teachers are unfairly, unnecessarily, and for no legally cognizable reason (let alone a compelling one), disadvantage by the current Permanent Employment Statute.” He added, “There is also no dispute that there are a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”

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The plaintiffs said that California law granted teachers tenure too quickly, and dismissing a teacher was too complicated and costly. They also objected to the state’s “Last-in, First-out” policy, which saw newer teachers fired before older ones regardless of performance. California has 285,000 teachers, but only 91 have been dismissed for “unsatisfactory” performance in the last 10 years.

Students Matter, which litigated the case on behalf of the plaintiffs, lauded the decision.

“The court has reaffirmed the fundamental principle that constitutional rights do not depend on a child’s skin color or zip code. They apply to everyone equally,” said plaintiff co-counsel Marcellus McRae in a statement. “The Court’s well-reasons decision goes to the heart of the evidence and is an unmistakable victory for students, parents, teachers, and the teaching profession.”

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The California Teachers Association called the ruling “deeply flawed” and said it would appeal to keep the laws they say “benefit students in well-run school districts all over the state.”

“Today’s ruling would make it harder to attract and retain quality teachers in our classrooms and ignores all research that shows experience is a key factor in effective teaching,” a blog post from the association said.

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