In June of this year, California Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu struck down tenure and seniority protections for California’s K-12 school teachers in the case of Vergara v. California. According to Treu’s decision, tenure protects bad teachers, bad teachers are more often assigned to the schools serving California’s most disadvantaged students, and the assignment of bad teachers (protected by tenure and seniority rights) violates the students’ civil rights under the equal protection clause of the state constitution. Many speculate the case will be overturned on appeal, and Judge Treu has stayed his decision pending the appeal.
Opponents of tenure have promised to launch copycat lawsuits against school teachers’ job protections in other states. Earlier this month, such a lawsuit was filed in New York on Staten Island by a group called the New York City Parents Union. While Mona Davids, president of the New York City Parents Union, told the NY Times that her lawsuit is different because it is “not being bankrolled by outside interests,” the research blogger, Mother Crusader, has connected the group’s board members to three organizations that actively oppose teachers unions and seek to privatize public education: Democrats for Education Reform, NYCAN, and StudentsFirstNY.
Paul Farhi of the Washington Post reports that Campbell Brown, the former CNN anchor who has transformed herself into an advocate against job protections for teachers, has created her own organization, the Partnership for Educational Justice, for the purpose of her crusade. She has hired the public relations firm of former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs and former Obama campaign spokesman Ben LaBolt, according to Stephanie Simon of Politico, to “lead a national public relations drive to support a series of lawsuits aimed at challenging tenure, seniority and other job protections that teachers unions have defended.” Brown has said her organization will be involved in New York. (This blog covered the Campbell Brown, Robert Gibbs, Ben LaBolt endeavor here.)
On Tuesday of this week, two heavyweight public school justice advocates went on the offensive against the New York attempt to claim that due process protections for teachers deny children’s civil right to an education. Billy Easton, executive director of the Alliance for Quality Education, and David Sciarra, executive director of the Education Law Center—both involved for years in lawsuits in New York and New Jersey to protect the rights of children to adequately funded education—published an opinion piece in the Albany Times Union.
The Staten Island lawsuit, they declare, completely misses the point: “The lawsuit gets one thing right,” they charge, “Children in high poverty, urban and rural school districts across the state are indeed being deprived of their constitutional right to a sound basic education. What it gets completely wrong is why: the state’s continuing failure to fairly fund high need schools so they can recruit, support and retain effective teachers and deliver rich instruction in math, science, world languages, the arts and other core subjects under optimal working conditions.”
In the case of Campaign for Fiscal Equity v. New York, New York’s high court defined the “sound basic education” to which all children in New York have a right. In response the New York General Assembly enacted the 2007 Foundation Aid Formula, which increased school funding across the state by more than $5 billion to be phased in over four years. However, “After two years, the state walked away from its commitment to our most disadvantaged children and schools. The funding shortfall now totals a staggering $5.7 billion, with the greatest impact on schools with the highest need.”
According to Sciarra and Easton the shortage has “cut teachers by the thousands…. In five years, Yonkers cut 500 staff members, losing half of the reading teachers and all math coaches. Schenectady has shed 40-50 positions annually, cutting music teachers by half, and letting go librarians, instructional coaches and writing instructors… Predictably, these staff reductions have sparked drastic increases in class size. Teachers now routinely face classes of 30 students or more.”
Easton and Sciarra conclude: “The good news is parents and students across New York know better. They have stepped up by the thousands to let Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislators know that they will no longer tolerate an underfunded, under-resourced, third-rate education. And they will not be distracted by frivolous, irrelevant lawsuits.”