The ruling, a major setback for teacher unions that could also
have national implications, came in response to a lawsuit
complaining the protections hurt poor and minority students by
effectively funneling incompetent teachers to schools in
disadvantaged areas at disproportional rates.
"We’re still reviewing the implications of the judge’s ruling," said
Lara Azar, a spokeswoman for state Superintendent of Education Tom
Torlakson, who is running for re-election with teacher union
backing. "It’s far too early to answer that question" of whether to
The ruling, which won praise from the Obama administration, comes
amid intense debate over how to reinvigorate a U.S. public school
system that leaves American children lagging counterparts in
countries such as Finland and South Korea.
But the politics of education reform are changing, with more
Democrats signing onto the notion, spelled out in the lawsuit and
supported by many Republicans, that it is too difficult to fire
incompetent teachers in California.
Backers of the lawsuit said they planned to expand their efforts to
other states, but have not yet specified which ones.
The group behind the lawsuit, Students Matter, was founded by
Silicon Valley businessman David Welch and boasts the firepower of
the Los Angeles law firm of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, whose attorneys
argued the case overturning California's anti-gay marriage
initiative, Proposition 8. On Wednesday, a Republican New Jersey
state senator said he would reintroduce legislation to eliminate
seniority protections for teachers during layoffs, and urged
supporters of the California lawsuit to bring their fight to his
Even as supporters of the ruling celebrated, the state's largest
teacher unions said they would appeal, issuing a news release
indicating the state would fight alongside them.
But a source close to the case said officials from California
Democratic Governor Jerry Brown's administration had been meeting to
try to decide whether to follow through with an appeal. A spokesman
for Brown declined to comment on the issue.
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If the state declines to appeal, unions could still mount a case
themselves, said Jim Finberg, who argued against the lawsuit for the
California Teachers Association. He said he would be "shocked" if
the state did not join an appeal.
"We defended the statute shoulder to shoulder, and the attorney
general is supposed to defend state statutes," Finberg said.
The California suit alleged that five laws meant to protect
teachers' jobs were unfair to poor and minority students by putting
them at greater risk of being taught by ineffective teachers.
The overturned laws include such protections as a "first in, last
out" rule, which requires that teachers with the least experience be
laid off first during cutbacks, along with rules granting teachers
tenure after two years on the job and making it difficult to fire
them for incompetence.
Backers of the lawsuit said incompetent teachers were often
transferred to schools in poor neighborhoods because it was too hard
to fire them. New teachers, who often start in disadvantaged
schools, are the first to be laid off, causing turmoil for children,
the suit argued.
(Additional reporting by Amanda Becker)
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