Podcast: Is teacher tenure unconstitutional?

The National Constitution Center’s Jeffrey Rosen is joined by two attorneys involved in the California teacher tenure case to discuss its constitutional implications.

classroomThe recent court decision out of Los Angeles County Superior Court in California is the latest flashpoint in the ongoing battle over education reform.

In Vergara v. California,Judge Rolf M. Treu ruled in favor of the nine student plaintiffs who argued that state laws governing teacher employment are unconstitutional because they undermine the quality of an education and therefore violate equal protection under the California state constitution.

Judge Treu also cited Brown v. Board of Education, saying that Brown recognized “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience” and that the current case was about applying that idea to the “quality of the educational experience.”

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan welcomed the decision as a “mandate” to fix educational problems. But Joshua Pechthalt, president of the California Federation of Teachers, fervently disagreed, saying, “We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric.”

The challenged laws include permanent employment status for California teachers after 18 months on the job; lengthy procedures to dismiss a teacher; and a seniority system in which the teachers most recently hired are the first to lose their jobs when layoffs occur.

Teachers’ unions have argued that these protections are necessary to ensure that teachers are not fired unfairly and that schools are able to attract new talent. They also say the plaintiffs failed to establish their constitutional claims.

Joining us to discuss are two attorneys involved with the case.

Ted Boutrous is a partner at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher and the leader of the team that challenged California’s teacher tenure laws. He has represented numerous clients in more than seventy appeals, including the successful challenge to California’s Proposition 8 that reached the Supreme Court.

Casey Pitts is an associate at Altshuler Berzon and a member of the team that defended California’s teacher tenure laws. He is a graduate of Yale Law School and a former law clerk to Judge Stephen Reinhardt on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

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