Wednesday, June 11, 2014

A victory for the corporate "reformers" in the Vergara v California case

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.
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 schools In 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 ?
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. Which side are you on ?

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