California Judge Rules Teacher Tenure Laws as Unconstitutional

| by Jared Keever

In a ruling on Tuesday, a California judge declared that the state’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional and violate the civil rights of students by depriving them of their right to an education. The decision could change the way teachers in the state are hired and fired and could lead to similar challenges in other states, according to the New York Times

Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court sided with the plaintiffs in the case, who argued that the laws unfairly affect students in poor neighborhoods.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Treu wrote in his ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan issued a statement immediately after the ruling was made public, declaring his support for the judge’s decision.

"The students who brought this lawsuit are, unfortunately, just nine out of millions of young people in America who are disadvantaged by laws, practices and systems that fail to identify and support our best teachers and match them with our neediest students. Today's court decision is a mandate to fix these problems," Duncan said according to CNN.

The case was organized by an education reform group called Students Matter. The organization is backed with millions of dollars in funding from Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch who paid for high-profile lawyer, Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., to bring the case before the court.

“Our public education system is failing our children because it has stopped putting their needs and their success above all else,” Welch said in a statement, according to Bloomberg.

“This case was designed to change that,” he said.

Treu’s ruling echoed many of the claims made by such like-minded people that believe schools should be run more like businesses. The judge said in his decision that the state’s tenure system assures teachers have a job for life. This makes it hard to fire poorly performing teachers once they are granted tenure after only 18 months on the job, he asserted. Treu added that low-income and minority students are most often given the least effective teachers.

Representatives from the unions disagreed.

“We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest corporate law firms that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education,” said Joshua Pechthalt, the president of the California Federation of Teachers, one of two unions in the state. “There are real problems in our schools, but this decision in no way helps us move the ball forward.”

Treu’s decision is tentative. He will take comments from both sides before he finalizes the decision some time near the end of June. The decision, once final, will be stayed, pending an appeal from union representatives.

Sources: New York Times, CNN, Bloomberg