Education Law

California teacher tenure laws violate poor students' right to equality of education, judge says

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A Los Angeles County judge says the state’s teacher tenure laws violate the right to equal protection guaranteed by the California Constitution.

Judge Rolf Treu ruled (PDF) on Tuesday for nine public school students who claim the tenure laws keep ineffective teachers on the job, and these teachers are disproportionately assigned to poor and minority schools. Treu found the laws violate the students’ right to equality of education.

The New York Times, the Washington Post and Education Week’s Teacher Beat blog have stories on Treu’s tentative decision, which will be finalized in 30 days.

The evidence of a disproportionate impact in minority students is compelling, Treu wrote. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

California is only one of five states with laws granting tenure to teachers after two years or less, Treu said. Thirty-two states have a three-year period and nine states have four or five. And the two-year time period is actually shorter, Treu said, because schools must communicate adverse decisions two or three months before the period ends.

After tenure, Treu found, the dismissal process is so time-consuming and expensive that school districts in many cases are reluctant to begin dismissal proceedings. “The evidence this court heard was that it could take anywhere from two to almost 10 years and cost $50,000 to $450,000 to bring these cases to conclusion,” Treu wrote.

According to the New York Times, the decision “hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case” that is “likely to set off a slew of legal fights” across the country.

The nonprofit Students Matter sued on behalf of the students. Lawyers Theodore Boutrous and Theodore Olson were among the lawyers who argued the case in a bench trial that lasted nearly two months, Education Week says. Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch financed the case.

The case is Vergara v. California.

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