Tenure, other job protections for Calif. teachers ruled unconstitutional
LOS ANGELES — A judge struck down tenure and other job protections for California's public school teachers as unconstitutional on Tuesday, saying such laws harm students — especially poor and minority ones — by saddling them with bad teachers who are almost impossible to fire.
In a landmark decision that could influence the gathering debate over tenure across the country, Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu cited the historic case of Brown v. Board of Education in ruling that students have a fundamental right to equal education.
Siding with the nine students who brought the lawsuit, he ruled that California's laws on hiring and firing in schools have resulted in “a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.”
He agreed, too, that a disproportionate number of these teachers are in schools that have mostly minority and low-income students.
The judge stayed the ruling pending appeals. The case involves 6 million students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
The California attorney general's office said it is considering its legal options, while the California Teachers Association, the state's biggest teachers union with 325,000 members, vowed an appeal.
“Circumventing the legislative process to strip teachers of their professional rights hurts our students and our schools,” the union said.
Teachers have long argued that tenure prevents administrators from firing teachers on a whim. They contend that the system preserves academic freedom and helps attract talented teachers to a profession that doesn't pay well.
Other states have been paying close attention to how the case plays out in the nation's most populous state.
“It's powerful,” said Theodore Boutrous Jr., the students' attorney. “It's a landmark decision that can change the face of education in California and nationally.”
He added: “This is going to be a huge template for what's wrong with education.”
In striking down several laws regarding tenure, seniority and other protections, the judge said the evidence at the trial showed the harm inflicted on students by incompetent teachers.
“The evidence is compelling,” he said. “Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
The judge cited an expert's finding that a single year with a grossly ineffective teacher costs a classroom full of students $1.4 million in lifetime earnings.
The lawsuit contended that incompetent teachers are so heavily protected by tenure laws that they are almost impossible to fire. The plaintiffs also charged that schools in poor neighborhoods are used as dumping grounds for the bad teachers.
In his ruling, the judge, a Republican appointee to the bench, said the procedure under the law for firing teachers is “so complex, time-consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory.”