Decision expected soon in California education case

By Mary C. Tillotson | Watchdog.org

Closing arguments in the Vergara versus California lawsuit will be heard Thursday.

Nine student plaintiffs, sponsored by StudentsMatter,

A court decision is expected within the next few months, though the timeline is at the court’s discretion, said Manny Rivera, spokesman for the plaintiffs.

The suit has been criticized for being funded by David Welch, a Silicon Valley millionaire and founder of StudentsMatter. The state’s teachers unions, including the California Teachers Association, have intervened in the suit. Itself no stranger to money, the CTA spent more than $211 billion in elections from 2000 to 2009.

Some watching the court cases have said the legislature, not the courts, is the appropriate place for debates over teacher dismissal — but in California, reforming education through the Legislature is effectively a lost cause.

“I don’t typically believe in litigation. We’re an overly litigious society,” said Larry Sand, a retired California teacher of 24 years and president of California Teachers Empowerment Network. “If you have no recourse, that’s sort of the last bastion. And here in California, the CTA … consider the state assembly their house. They assume themselves the fourth branch of government. Courts and litigation seem to be the only way to combat this.”

Unions have often used the courts to stop reformers or overturn school choice programs, and it may make sense for reform proponents to use the same tools, said Frederick Hess, resident scholar and director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute. At the same time, he said, the legislature is the proper place for policy debates.

“There are other people who are more liberal who could file suit and say, ‘You know what, California’s failing these children because it is not paying teachers twice as much as it currently is. California has to offer universal preschool for all 3 and 4-year-olds. California is not allowed to use testing because that’s going to violate the quality of these kids’ education.’ Essentially, once you kind of start saying to the judges, ‘You guys get to decide what a quality education requires,’ you’ve taken it out of the legislative process. You’ve removed it from the citizens of California, and now you better hope the judges happen to agree with you,” he said.

Hess said he agrees with the substance of the lawsuit — that the students’ rights are being violated — but the ideal place for the conversation is the legislature.

“Obviously, the makeup of the California Legislature means that such an approach isn’t going anywhere, so it’s partly a question of means and ends. This is why I’m very sympathetic to the lawsuit,” he said. “Realistically, in that context, it’s probably a question of either you file this lawsuit or you just sit on your hands for a while, as far as your ability to fundamentally change those statutory protections.”

Contact Mary C. Tillotson at mtillotson@watchdog.org.

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Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com, a columnist for the Forum News Service, and host of the Plain Talk Podcast which you can subscribe to by clicking here.

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