Union-Backed Bill Seeks More Tenure Protection in California

A teachers union-backed bill in the California legislature would broaden teacher tenure protections to include other public school employees, even though a court ruling last week decided that tenure protections were unconstitutional and are harmful for students.

Reuters reports that officials in the country’s most populated state are still trying to decide whether or not to appeal the Los Angeles Superior Court ruling which sought to do away with five laws already in place to protect teachers’ jobs.  The judge said that these laws made it too difficult to fire incompetent teachers and, in the end put the worst teachers in classrooms with the most needy students.

“The issue remains that there are a number of teachers, nurses, counselors – folks who take care of kids every single day – who don’t have basic protections,” said Democratic Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, the bill’s author. “So while we may have a future compromise or fight over the dismissal process, this is about having some basic protections.”

Gonzalez’s bill would require that small school districts grant tenure to credentialed teachers after three years.  Currently, a school district with fewer than 250 students does not have to grant tenure.  The bill also would require districts to grant tenure to vocational education teachers, nurses, psychologists and counselors after three years of service.

Republican Senate leader Bob Huff  said this was a “step backwards” from the ruling last week.  Teachers unions, however, were very much against the ruling.  The Obama administration praised the ruling against tenure protections.

Gonzalez said that because of the recent ruling, she felt she had made a major concession by changing the number of years of service needed for tenure from two to three.  However, she said that teachers in large districts would still be tenured in two years.

The LA School Report, in an article by Michael Janofsky, says that Gonzalez’s bill was not passed in the Assembly by one “nay” vote. However, it is expected to come back for another vote next week.  Huff says it will most likely pass and move to the full Senate for a vote.

Judge Rolf Treu disagreed with the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), during the Vergara v. California trial, who argued that two years was an adequate amount of time to establish if a teacher should be granted tenure.  The judge has stayed his final decision until appeals, which are expected, have played out.  For now, everyone finds themselves in a “wait and see” state.

The same group that paid for the lawsuit in California says that it will challenge tenure laws in 12 more states, says Ben Tracy, reporting for the CBS Evening News. Judge Treu did not hold back in his remarks concerning the case.

 “The number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students … The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The Los Angeles teachers’ unions were quick to ask why the problems plaguing low-income students were being attributed to educators. Some thought that this was part of an effort put forth by well-funded parties to take down unions and work toward privatization.

The lawsuit was funded by David Welch, a Silicon Valley millionaire entrepreneur.  It was brought before the court by nine California students.  The head of Los Angeles public schools wants to fire 350 ineffective teachers, but that could take up to 10 years and $450,000 per case.  The teachers’ unions intend to appeal the ruling.