Public school educators face a new threat in the form of the Vergara v. California lawsuit, which aims to declare unconstitutional five provisions of the Education Code that ensure seniority, due process and other rights for K-12 teachers. (See page 7)

The principal funders of the suit are billionaires Eli Broad and David Welch (co-founder of Students Matter). Broad, who become a key funder and leading spokesperson for the Michelle Rhee brand of education reform, secretly contributed to the Arizona PAC that funneled money into California to defeat Proposition 30 and pass Proposition 32.

The lawsuit, directed at the state and the California Department of Education, and joined by the CFT and the California Teachers Association, contends that provisions of the Education Code violate students’ civil rights. Vergara v. California claims that seniority and due process rights protect ineffective teachers at the expense of better, newly hired teachers during layoffs and that cumbersome and costly dismissal procedures make it difficult to fire ineffective teachers.

The Vergara legal team includes attorney Ted Olsen, renowned for defending George W. Bush before the Supreme Court in Gore v. Bush, and attorneys from the prominent law firm that has represented Chevron, Wal-Mart, Dole and other major U.S. corporations.

“Lawyers from the California Attorney General’s office, working with Jim Finberg representing the CFT and the CTA, have argued that the political motives behind the Vergara lawsuit are really about scapegoating education unions rather than solving any real issues facing education.”

Top education experts including Linda Darling-Hammond and Jesse Rothstein, as well as teachers, superintendents and others, have stepped forward to show that these essential provisions in the Education Code give teachers protection to advocate for students, while ensuring that teachers are able to do their jobs free from intimidation and nepotism. 

This lawsuit comes on the heels of years of devastating cuts to public education during which tens of thousands of educators lost jobs. The CFT’s success with Proposition 30 resulted in stabilized funding for education, and for putting the state on a path to economic growth. As a result, California schools have improved budgets and are restoring vital programs. 

While the Vergara case poses a serious threat to educators and public education, it also provides us an opportunity to do what we do best, organize. Together, the CFT and the AFT are educating Californians about the anti-teacher, anti-union message of the billionaires behind the lawsuit.

As the case progresses, we can show our members, parents and community partners a more robust vision of public education, one that truly addresses the needs of students. We can turn Vergara on its head by building a powerful coalition that defends equity and the civil rights of all children.