A victory for corporate “reformers” over teacher unions in California

A victory for the corporate “reformers” in the decision of the court in Vergara v California

Duane Campbellby Duane Campbell

California judge Rolf Treu ruled Tuesday in the Vergara v.California case that California teacher tenure laws deprive students of their right to an education that is guaranteed under the state constitution and violates their civil rights. The decision is a major defeat for teachers’ unions and will presumably lead to challenges of tenure laws in other states. The ruling overturned five state statutes giving California teachers firing protections and rights to tenure and seniority.

The implementation of the ruling has been stayed while under appeal.

The Sacramento Bee editorial board and Bee columnists Marcos Breton and Dan Walters, along with their candidate Marc Tucker each applaud the court ruling. Note what they say in their columns. They applaud this defeat of the Teachers Unions, they do not deal with the critical issue of adequate school funding. June 11.

What do the sides agree upon?

It is clear that many students in California receive a substandard education and that failing schools are concentrated in poor and minority neighborhoods.   The judge cites the long history of successful law suites Serrano V. Priest I, II. III, and more that mandated changes in state funding to provide equal funding. There is also general agreement that teacher quality is a significant factor in improving education.

The problem is that the remedy of the corporate “reformers” and of the court does not resolve the basic issues. It deals with teacher placement, tenure, and freedom of speech, not the adequate funding of schools.  It may at most respond to the 1-3 % of poor teachers in the classrooms.

California is one of a number of states that require in their state constitution that the state provide adequate public education. This has been reaffirmed numerous times in Serrano v. Priest 1,2,, 3 and cited again in this court ruling.

What is the current status of school funding ?

In spite of over this 40 years of court rulings, California has avoided equity of funding . This may be resolved in the next 8 years with the new Local Control Funding bill, but we don’t know.

Since 1978 Prop. 13 tax cuts, California has been inadequate in its funding of public schools. California’s  per-pupil spending was $1,421 below the national average in 2011, placing  it 36th in the nation. During the crisis the k-12 budget “solutions” cut some billion dollars from the schoolsIn 2007/2008 California spent $9,158 per pupil, before the economic crisis, and in 2008/2009, California spent $7,712 per pupil. Californians have larger classes and fewer teachers than other states.


This year’s state budget will finally return us to our pre recession levels of funding for schools.  The new funding is a result of a teacher union led campaign – along with union allies- working to pass Prop. 30 a temporary 5 year tax on the wealthy to benefit the schools and to fund a limited number of other social services,  Schools are beginning to receive these funds and to recover.

Where were the corporate “reformers” and the Democrats for Educational Reform, Student First, Michelle Rhee crowd during the campaign to fund the schools ?

Absent !

Instead of working for adequate funding they pursued the Vergara case. That is  they assert that the problem isn’t poverty nor underfunding schools,  we don’t need to raise taxes. Rather, the problem is teacher unions.

There is scant evidence to support this assertion. These corporate funded reformers, many of the Democrats, are the same forces that brought us No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top, and test based “accountability.”

This is a classic neoliberal switch of issues – recognize and promote an economic “crisis’, then propose a ‘ solution’ that corresponds to your narrow self interest.

So, the problem is inadequate schools for some students and the corporate “solution’ is to blame bad teachers and to assault teacher unions.

In the Vergara v California case the corporate “reform” crowd has won the first step in the courts and they have to date lost the debates with the voters.

This is a war of positions. The battles continue from year to year.

Duane Campbell is the author of Choosing Democracy: a practical guide to multicultural education.  (2010) and Director of the Democracy and Education Institute in Sacramento, California. He blogs on education and economic issues at http://www.choosingdemocracy.blogspot.com and on general issues at http://www.dsausa.org


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