Momentum Shifts in Fight to Fire Bad Teachers
Thank you, Gov. Jerry Brown.
The governor on Thursday sided with California parents seeking to protect their children from sexual predators in the classroom, over the interests of the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers seeking to protect their members by circumventing and defeating the most significant lawsuit – Vergara vs. California – challenging California statutes – including teacher dismissal laws – impeding educational opportunities for children but arduously protected by CTA and CFT.
The governor vetoed Assembly Bill 375.
AB375, by Democratic Assembly Education Committee Chairwoman Joan Buchanan, intended, ostensibly, to streamline the process by which bad teachers can be dismissed. It was hastily introduced this session after a stronger bill had been killed last year at the behest of the CTA. Following a public outcry over that bill’s demise, even CTA understood the need for damage control, given sex abuse scandals involving teachers in the state’s largest school district, Los Angeles Unified. Faced with a practical inability to fire bad teachers, LAUSD officials resorted to paying them to go away – including paying millions to settle misconduct lawsuits.
From the start, AB375 was a “Rosemary’s Baby” bill: ghostwritten by the CTA, replete with protections for its members at the expense of children. It contained a “get out of jail free” card that limited the timeframe for adjudicating misconduct cases. It created new layers of protections for teachers in a process already stacked in their favor. It even limited the number of witnesses who could be deposed.
In sum, it was a phony “reform” bill. But, given the intervention of Democratic legislative leaders, it was fast-tracked to the governor’s desk with the expectation that he would simply sign it.
Then, while the bill was still pending with the governor, proponents committed a major miscalculation in assuming the governor was in their pocket. The teachers unions – supported by California Attorney General Kamala Harris and other state officials – filed motions in Los Angeles Superior Court to immediately dismiss the Vergara lawsuit. Trial is scheduled for 2014.
Shame on them, for nothing less than political malfeasance.
But this time, their chutzpah backfired, thanks to the rag tag army of parents, education reformers, administrators and school board members who called upon the governor to veto the bill. The governor – who had already signed AB484 – another flawed bill favored by the unions – refused to sign AB375.
Now what? Existing law on teacher dismissals must still be changed, but power has shifted to reformers seeking protections for children. When the Legislature reconvenes in January, it will mark a rare opportunity to see an emboldened alignment of reform forces willing to take on the fight in virtually every branch of government: a legislative strategy will be launched anew – but one that cannot be beholden to merely protecting bad teachers, as was AB375.
This legislative battle will unfold during an election cycle, when the public can clearly see the flow of money and whether legislators are looking out for kids rather than their campaign coffers.
Judicially, the Vergara case will proceed, signaling that parents are increasingly turning to this key branch of government to remedy the persistent failures of the Legislature to write bills that benefit families – rather than lawmakers’ financial benefactors.
And, finally, 2014 affords the people a chance to launch our own ballot initiative to write protections for our children, who are – as stated in our state Constitution – guaranteed safety. The simultaneous launching of an initiative can be a powerful political tool to hold legislators accountable to do the right thing.
Rarely, is there such an alignment of “the stars” in the political process.
Romero, a Los Angeles resident, served in the California Legislature from 1998 to 2008, the last seven years as Senate majority leader. This article originally appeared in the Orange County Register and is republished here with permission.