Former Govs. Schwarzenegger, Wilson Call for Change to Teacher Tenure Laws

Mark Judge | September 18, 2015 | 11:40am EDT
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Former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger (AP)

Former California Govs. Pete Wilson and Arnold Schwarzenegger and constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe have submitted a court filing arguing that California’s teacher tenure laws enable incompetent teachers to keep their jobs, hurting some of the state’s neediest students.

In a filing to the Second District Court of Appeal in Los Angeles on Wednesday, Tribe and lawyers for Wilson and Schwarzenegger argue that it is “nearly impossible to remove ineffective teachers from classrooms” because of California state laws.

California’s tenure laws allow a school to fire a teacher for any reason during the first two years of employment. After that it is required to show of “good cause” before an independent panel for dismissals. Schools must also dismiss the least-experienced teachers first during layoffs, but make exceptions for newer teachers whose specialized training and experience meet their district’s needs. A 2005 California ballot initiative that would increase the time a teacher could be fired from two years to five was voted down by 55 pervent.

The appeals court is reviewing a June 2014 ruling by Rolf Treu, a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles, declaring the tenure and seniority laws unconstitutional. Treu found the laws violate the right of students to educational equality and “impose a disproportionate burden on poor and minority students,” who are more likely to be taught by inexperienced and unqualified teachers. It was the first such ruling by any state in the nation.

Attorney General Kamala Harris and teachers’ unions appealed the ruling, arguing that the tenure laws protect teachers against arbitrary firings and that neither the judge nor the nine student plaintiffs in the suit had presented evidence that the laws harm students or shield incompetent teachers. The court has not yet scheduled a hearing in the case.

Wednesday's legal brief argues that education is a fundamental right, one that is endangered when bad teachers are given tenure: “The statues at issue impair this fundamental and foundational right by blindly prioritizing the job security of teachers, regardless of their competence, over the educational needs, interests, and rights of California school children – rights that belong to every child in the State, but that matter to none quite so much as they matter to those for whom a quality public education is the exclusive path to the American Dream.”

The brief concluded that the current tenure review period is too short for principals to make “informed tenure decisions” and “inevitably results in grossly ineffective teachers receiving tenure.” 

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