Businesshala News Exclusive | Proposed California Ballot Measure Could Spark Court Challenges to Teacher Protections

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Education-reform advocates propose a constitutional right to quality education could turn into a costly battle with teacher unions

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Stakes are especially high in California, America’s most populous state and home to some of the nation’s most powerful teacher unions, which have previously resisted efforts to undermine tenure and other protections for its members.

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If the measure makes it to the November 2022 vote, there could be a costly battle between unions and wealthy education reform supporters.

The California Teachers Association is an umbrella group for teacher unions in the state with approximately 310,000 members. CTA spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said the union was not aware of the initiative and was reviewing the language. “We certainly believe that all students deserve a high quality public education,” Ms Briggs said in an email.

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California’s initiative, filed Thursday, proposes to amend the state’s constitution to say that all public school students “shall have the right to a high quality public education” and to extend public education laws and regulations “for students”. The interests should be put first.”

The measure now awaits a title and summary by the attorney general’s office before approving it for signature gathering. If it receives about 1 million valid signatures, it will be placed on the November 2022 ballot.

One of its primary supporters is Student Matter, a nonprofit founded by Silicon Valley executive David Welch. The organization controlled a 2012 lawsuit that sought to invalidate California laws governing teacher tenure and layoffs. According to data from the States Education Commission, California is one of eight states that allow teachers to earn tenure within two years of employment.

A state appeals court eventually upheld those laws in Vergara v. allowed to stand in the case known as California.

Mr Welch said the proposed ballot measure is not just an attempt to make similar lawsuits more likely to succeed in the future, but focuses more broadly on establishing every student’s right to challenge problematic education laws. .

“I don’t have a specific statute that’s on my hit list,” Mr Welch said. “The legislature is responsible for the educational system and its performance and they have allowed that system to operate in a normal state for decades.”

Other proponents of the effort include former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who clashed with teacher unions during his tenure, and education activist Ben Austin, a charter school aide who devised California’s so-called “parent-triggered” laws. that allow parents to shut down or take over low-performing schools if enough of them sign a petition.

Mr Welch declined to say how much he has contributed to the current effort or how much money he intends to raise from other donors. Supporters have retained advisors, held several rounds of voting and enlisted the help of a former California appellate judge to help draft the language.

“We don’t enter it if we don’t think we can fund it,” Mr Welch said. The proposed change defines a quality education as one that provides “the skills necessary to participate fully in the economy, our democracy and our society”. The impact of such legislation would become apparent through legal actions that may be brought under the initiative by public school students or their parents who believe that a particular policy is infringing on the rights of the student.

Proponents cited persistent achievement gaps, particularly among Latino and black students in the state, and argued that policymakers forced students into underperforming schools. Under the proposed amendment, plaintiffs can only seek to invalidate objectionable laws or policies. Remedies cannot include orders that trigger new expenses or taxes.

If it votes, the measure will be the newest front in a decades-long political battle between allies of charter schools and other education reform movements in California, funded mostly by wealthy donors and teacher unions. In the past he has supported competing candidates in expensive races for local school board seats and superintendent of state schools.

In recent years, unions have helped elect Governor Gavin Newsom and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond, both Democrats, and have won strong limits on charter schools.

Columbia University law professor James Liebman, who helped draft the proposed measure, said it would represent a shift toward requiring school systems to consider not just the amount of money or resources they spend. for, but rather specific practices, such as hiring less experienced teachers in schools. More students who are poor and racial minorities.

Natalie Wheatfall-Lum, policy director for Education Trust-West, a nonprofit that advocates for equality and achievement in schools, said she was concerned if the only way to challenge existing policies was in the courts. Wealthy supporters were often needed.

“Most importantly, as those solutions are developed, the students and families that will benefit are on the table,” said Ms Wheatfall-Lum.

Christine Mai-Duke [email protected] Feather

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