August 24, 2016

Back to School Choice Week 2016: The sad end to Vergara highlights the need for school choice

By Joshua P. Thompson Senior Attorney

A little over two years ago the Los Angeles County Superior Court issued a decision in Vegara v. California that shook the California public school system. The court ruled that three Education Code statutes — permanent employment, last-in-first-out, and dismissal — violated the rights of California students under California’s Equal Protection Clause. According to the court, these statutes created a public school system that sacrificed children to the interests the teachers’ union, and, as a result, the statutes violated the students’ fundamental right to a quality education.   

The court of appeal reversed. It held that the students could not show that the statutes “inevitably” lead to a poor education. Although the court of appeal recognized that the statutes may hurt students’ education, and this harm may fall on minority students more heavily, it held that neither result necessarily flows from the statutes. As a result, the court did not apply heightened scrutiny to the statutes, and upheld them under rational basis review.

Yesterday, the California Supreme Court denied review, ending the case. The California Supreme Court only recently allowed dissents from the denial of review, and Justice Liu took advantage in this case. He wrote a stinging dissent from the denial.  Here’s his conclusion:

Despite the gravity of the trial court‘s findings, despite the apparent error in the Court of Appeal‘s equal protection analysis, and despite the undeniable statewide importance of the issues presented, the court decides that the serious claims raised by Beatriz Vergara and her eight student peers do not warrant our review. I disagree. As the state‘s highest court, we owe the plaintiffs in this case, as well as schoolchildren throughout California, our transparent and reasoned judgment on whether the challenged statutes deprive a significant subset of students of their fundamental right to education and violate the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Justice Liu’s dissent highlights the importance of the issues in this case. The quality of education for hundreds of thousands of students was at stake.  This was always a very difficult case, with a very difficult legal theory. The plaintiffs have vowed to take the serious issues raised in this case to the California Legislature.

To us at Pacific Legal Foundation, the result in this case highlights the need for school choice in California. The statutes highlighted by the Vergara lawsuit are, at a minimum, very bad policy.  Too many kids suffer under ineffective teachers as a result of these statutes. However, charter schools are not bound by the same onerus statutes. Is it any surprise that charter schools are thriving in California, or that 158,000 kids are on waiting lists to attend a California charter school?

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