Two former Republican governors joined an impressive array of law professors, education scholars, teachers of the year, civil rights advocates and state and civic leaders submitting briefs on both sides of the appeal of the Vergara lawsuit.
Last week was the deadline for experts supporting or opposing the lawsuit to submit friend of the court briefs, called amicus curiae, to the judges of the Second District of the California Court of Appeal. The court will review the landmark ruling of Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu, who struck down five state teacher protection statutes affecting tenure and the processes for teacher dismissal and layoffs based on seniority.
Both sides are hoping there will be a ruling sometime next year, although the court of appeal has not yet set a date for oral arguments for the case, and there is no statutory deadline for an appeals court to make a ruling. Some cases take years before oral arguments are set.
After three months of testimony, Treu ruled in June 2014 that the five employment laws he ruled on disproportionately hurt poor and minority children by saddling them with the state’s worst-performing teachers. The evidence of “the effect of grossly ineffective teachers on students is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience,” Treu wrote in siding with the plaintiffs, nine students whose case was brought by the advocacy group Students Matter. The state’s two teachers unions and the state are the defendants.
Treu didn’t declare tenure unconstitutional. He wrote that the current law, which awards due-process rights to teachers after two years of probation “does not provide nearly enough time for an informed decision to be made.” Layoffs based strictly on seniority and not on performance lead to the retention of incompetent teachers and the laying off of competent teachers, he ruled. And the current dismissal laws are “so complex, time consuming and expensive as to make an effective, efficient yet fair dismissal of a grossly ineffective teacher illusory,” his decision said.
The two sides’ briefs express diametric views, defending or attacking the decision on legal and policy grounds. Diane Ravitch, a noted critic of education reforms, and other education professors opposing the decision called the ruling deeply flawed. They said Treu failed to show evidence that the statutes caused the distribution and retention of the worst teachers while ignoring the benefits to workplace stability that the laws created. Civil rights organizations opposing the ruling, including the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that Treu ignored crucial factors, such as a lack of adequate school funding, that cause unequal outcomes in education.
On the other hand, other civil rights groups, including Education Trust-West, agreed with Treu, stating that the statutes in question “have a profound and destructive effect on California’s low-income and minority youth.” And a group of award-winning teachers wrote, “Without the Challenged Statutes, California’s strong employee protection statutes will still protect teachers, but students will no longer be harmed by a system that puts the quality of their education second.”
What follows are some key passages in the friend of the court briefs filed on behalf of the plaintiffs or the defendants:
Former governors supporting the ruling
Former California Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
State education leaders opposing the ruling
Kevin Beiser, board member of the San Diego Unified School District; Joan Buchanan, former state legislator and board member of the San Ramon Valley Unified School District; and Steve Zimmer, board president of the Los Angeles Unified School District, were among those submitting the brief. (Full brief here.)
Law professors supporting the ruling
Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School, Rachel Moran of UCLA Law School and Dawinder Sindhu of University of New Mexico School of Law submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
Law professors opposing the ruling
Dean Irwin Chemerinsky and Catherine Fisk of UC Irvine Law School, Charles Ogletree of Harvard Law School, and Pam Karlan of Stanford Law School submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
Civil rights groups supporting the ruling
Education Trust–West, Oakland Alliance for Black Educators and Los Angeles Urban League submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
The five statutory provisions challenged in this case deprive African-American, Latino, and low-income students of educational equality with their peers. The harm that these statutes impose on these students is not hypothetical or speculative. Numerous studies show that these statutes deprive low-income and minority students of years of lost learning time over their academic career.
Civil right groups opposing the ruling
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, Equal Justice Society, Education Law Center, Southern Poverty Law Center and Advancing Justice-LA submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
Business groups supporting the ruling
The Silicon Valley Leadership Group, the California Business Roundtable and the California Chamber of Commerce were among those submitting the brief. (Full brief here.)
Education professors, scholars opposing the ruling
Bruce Baker, professor at Rutgers University’s Graduate School of Education; Eva Baker, research professor of education at UCLA; Nancy Carlsson-Paige, professor emerita at Lesley University’s Graduate School of Education; James Popham, professor emeritus at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education; Diane Ravitch, research professor at New York University; and John Rogers, professor at UCLA’s Graduate School of Education, were among those submitting the brief. (Full brief here.)
Teachers of the year supporting the ruling
Adam Kuppersmith, a Los Angeles Unified Teacher of the Year in 2012; Karen Sykes-Orpe, a Los Angeles Unified Teacher of the Year in 2010; and Katherine Czujko, a Los Angeles Unified Teacher of the Year in 2013, submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)
Teachers of the year opposing the ruling
Rebecca Mieliwocki, the 2012 National Teacher of the Year; Timothy Smith, California’s nominee in 2014 for the National Teacher of the Year; and Jessica Pack, one of five California Teachers of the Year for 2014, were among those who submitted the brief. (Full brief here.)