A sociopolitical bomb exploded in a Los Angeles courtroom Tuesday when a judge declared that five key job protection laws for teachers are unconstitutional because they violate the rights of 6 million public school students to receive effective educations.
Judge Rolf Treu’s tentative ruling is an immense victory for education reformers who have battled the state’s education establishment – especially the powerful California Teachers Association – for years over teacher tenure, seniority and dismissal procedures.
“Plaintiffs have proven, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the challenged statutes impose a real and appreciable impact on students’ fundamental right to equality of education and that they impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students,” Treu declared.
Reform and establishment forces have waged pitched battles over these and other education issues in the Legislature, in the courts and on the ballot – most recently over how a new school finance system should be implemented.
The conflict is also reflected in the stiff challenge mounted by charter school advocate Marshall Tuck, backed by education reform groups, against state schools chief Tom Torlakson, who’s received massive financial support from the CTA. Treu’s decision gives Tuck some new ammunition for his assault on the educational status quo.
Silicon Valley entrepreneurs have been key elements of the reform drive, and one, David Welch, formed and financed Students Matter, which filed the lawsuit against the state on behalf of several Los Angeles students, contending that they were being deprived of meaningful educations by teacher job protection laws.
Welch assembled a dream team of top-flight lawyers, and they recruited education experts to testify about the laws’ negative effects, particularly on poor students.
Judge Treu completely accepted their contentions that the laws protect what he called “grossly ineffective” teachers, adding, “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”
So what now?
Ironically, the ruling came one day after the state Senate approved a major rewrite of teacher dismissal laws that the pending case had spurred. And in his ruling, Treu virtually begged the contending parties to negotiate a settlement, saying he would “trust the Legislature to fulfill its mandated duty to enact legislation on the issues herein discussed that passes constitutional muster.”
Meanwhile, he suspended any immediate effects pending appeal of his ruling and, implicitly, legislative action.
The situation is analogous to federal courts’ crackdown on the state’s overcrowded prisons that eventually forced Brown and the Legislature to act.
The Capitol’s politicians are now on similar judicial notice to ensure that schools are managed for the children’s benefit, not the adults.
Dan Walters is a columnist for the Sacramento Bee. Reach him as email@example.com.