Democrats Fight Democrats Over Education and Unions

Welch has set off a Blue on Blue battle that is going to distract from the midterm elections.


Score another one for the first T with the ruling that job protection for teachers' unions violates the California Constitution.

This isn't really new. A simmering civil war between municipal unions and minority groups was mostly put on the back burners in the interests of maintaining a liberal coalition, but there have been flare ups recently.

These days it's a civil war between technocrats who want to shake up public education and union protectionists. And the ruling only went this far because sizable chunks of the Democratic establishment are in the technocrat camp.

A California judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprived students of their right to an education under the State Constitution and violated their civil rights. The decision hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case, one that could radically alter how California teachers are hired and fired and prompt challenges to tenure laws in other states.

“Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,” Judge Rolf M. Treu of Los Angeles Superior Court wrote in the ruling. “The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”

The decision, which was enthusiastically endorsed by Education Secretary Arne Duncan, brings a close to the first chapter of the case, Vergara v. California, in which a group of student plaintiffs backed by a Silicon Valley millionaire argued that state tenure laws had deprived them of a decent education by leaving bad teachers in place.

In his sharply worded 16-page ruling, Judge Treu compared the Vergara case to the historic desegregation battle of Brown v. Board of Education, saying that the earlier case addressed “a student’s fundamental right to equality of the educational experience,” and that this case involved applying that principle to the “quality of the educational experience.”

He agreed with the plaintiffs’ argument that California’s current laws make it impossible to remove the system’s numerous low-performing and incompetent teachers, because the tenure system assures them a job essentially for life; that seniority rules requiring the newest teachers to be laid off first were harmful; and that granting tenure to teachers after only two years on the job was farcical, offering far too little time for a fair assessment of the teacher’s skills.

The presence of Arne Duncan here tells you all you need to know. This is the Obama camp. That camp is opposed by politicians even further on the left such as Bill de Blasio.

And don't expect this conflict to end any time soon.

David Welch, a Silicon Valley technology magnate, spent several million dollars to create the organization that brought the Vergara case to court — Students Matter — and paid for a team of high-profile lawyers, including Theodore J. Boutrous Jr., who helped win a Supreme Court decision striking down California’s same-sex marriage ban. While the next move is still unclear, the group is considering filing lawsuits in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho and Kansas as well as other states with powerful unions where legislatures have defeated attempts to change teacher tenure laws.

This is where things get interesting. The unions have sizable war chests, but they didn't expect to have to use them like this.

Welch has set off a Blue on Blue battle that is going to distract from the midterm elections. Few edu unions are going to be thinking about putting more Dems in Congress if they have to worry about being gutted by their own.

Also this means that the growing trend of teachers' unions donating to Republicans, even Tea Party Republicans, will increase, and not just in red states. The unions can either go further to the left, but there are only so many De Blasios they can elect. In some cases they will have to go to the right.

You would have expected the White House to put the brakes on this, at least with the unfortunate timing, but a lot of the shots are called by the big donors these days, and their biggest issue, after Global Warming, is education reform.

Obama needs to at least make some gestures in that direction to keep his technocratic image, which nets money and keeps him afloat with the media. If he starts looking like a machine politician, he's toast.

In the long run this will change very little. The corruption is structural and embedded unions will always have the inside track. Welch proved that if you spend enough time and money, and enlist powerful liberal allies, you can shake them, but nobody is getting rid of them. And California municipal unions have already proven that they can be very dangerous enemies.

Finally, the ruling is a joke, but that's because the entire principle of disproportionate impact is an unconstitutional farce. You can also apply it to so many things that it could be used to outlaw and invalidate anything and everything.