California Supreme Court Upholds Teacher Tenure Laws

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

(Photo: Flickr, Creative Commons)

The California Supreme Court has voted 4-3 in a decision that allowed the teacher tenure law in the state to remain in effect.

The high court decided it will not be reviewing a lower court ruling that kept tenure and other job protections for teachers in place.  That ruling was the result of a lawsuit brought on by a group of students who argued that low-quality teachers were continually allowed to keep their positions due to tenure laws and that schools in poor neighborhoods received an unequal share of these teachers.

In its decision, the appeals court noted that the students did not show the unconstitutionality of the hiring and firing laws in the state.  The decision made by that court overturned a previous ruling made by a Los Angeles Superior Court judge who agreed with the students.

Through the reversal of that decision, the appellate panel did say that the trial brought to light a number of problems with tenure and layoff statutes as well as the issues concerning staffing decisions made for poor and minority students.  However, it added that state laws were not to blame for these concerns.

Attorneys for the state and teachers unions noted that the case was not about helping students, and that no evidence suggested the disputed statutes were the cause of educational inequalities.

According to Justice Roger Boren, presiding over the 2nd District Court of Appeal, while some principals do remove highly ineffective teachers from their own schools by sending them to low-income schools, the move is unrelated to the teacher tenure law.

Meanwhile, teachers continue to stress the importance of retaining the tenure law, saying that it protects them from being fired for no reason, promotes academic freedom, and helps to attract new high-quality teachers to the profession, which they say does not pay well.

The lawsuit was sponsored by Students Matter, a nonprofit group that argued that the law disproportionately affected poor and minority students who were routinely taught by 1-3% of the worst-performing teachers in the state.

At the same time, the court voted to decline hearing an appeal of a lawsuit that brought into question the state’s level of funding for K-12 education.  According to the lower court ruling of that case, no constitutional basis was found for challenging the Legislature’s authority to determine what it considers to be sufficient school funding, writes John Fensterwald for EdSource.

Led by the nonprofit law firm Public Advocates, a coalition of state education groups such as CTA, the state PTA, and the California School Boards Association had filed the pair of lawsuits six years ago.  In their argument, the group suggested that governors and the legislatures had set rigorous academic mandates but then had not offered enough funding.  As a result, low-income students and English language learners suffered the most through a lack of resources.