Decrying state schools chief Tom Torlakson for a lack of action on the June court decision ruling California’s teacher hiring and dismissal practices unconstitutional, challenger Marshall Tuck delivered a letter to the State Board of Education on Thursday asking its members to immediately begin developing solutions to the issues raised in the lawsuit.
“We cannot wait for this court case to wind its way through the appeals process while kids are trying to get a quality education. We need change now,” Tuck said during a news conference outside the California Department of Education. “We are asking the State Board of Education ... to lead where the state superintendent is not leading.”
A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled in Vergara v. State of California that the state’s two-year teacher tenure process, dismissal procedures and seniority-based layoff system violate students’ right to equality of education by protecting “grossly ineffective” teachers who predominantly serve low-income and minority children.
Gov. Jerry Brown and the state filed an appeal last week, and Torlakson has indicated that he will pursue his own appeal. But Tuck, a former charter schools executive, has made Vergara a central part of his campaign, repeatedly calling on his opponent and the state to let the ruling stand.
“I have yet to hear an argument, a kid-first argument, as to why these policies are helpful to kids,” he said, adding that the lack of support for the lawsuit among top state officials was a political choice to stick with their teachers union donors rather than doing “what’s right for kids.”
“It’s a problem that indicates that decisions are really being made around influence of Sacramento insiders and Sacramento funders,” Tuck said.
Like Torlakson and Brown, Tuck is a Democrat. But he has found his closest ally on the teacher tenure issue in Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari, who recently released a video criticizing Brown for siding with the California Teachers Association, his biggest donor, by appealing the Vergara ruling.
Torlakson spokesman Paul Hefner took exception to Tuck’s characterization of the state superintendent’s position on the tenure laws.
“The states that do the very best job working with teachers, and make sure teachers have the protections they need, are the states that perform the best academically,” Hefner said, while states without protections perform the worst.
“Mr. Tuck doesn’t seem to be aware of the consequences of the policies that he’s promoting,” he said. “He’s focused on an agenda that’s all about blaming teachers.”
Hefner added that Torlakson has done all that was required of him by the lawsuit, while also supporting a bill this year intended to streamline the teacher dismissal process.
In his letter to the state board, which is full of Brown appointees, Tuck urged members to start working with district superintendents and education leaders to develop legislative recommendations addressing California’s teacher hiring and dismissal policies. Tuck has suggested a more rigorous tenure process of at least four years and performance-based layoffs.
Those policies are strongly opposed by California’s teachers unions, which spent millions on behalf of Torlakson during the primary. Tuck received huge support from the private sector, making the superintendent race the most expensive in the state during the first half of the year.
Tuck also challenged his opponent on Thursday to a debate on Vergara, arguing that Torlakson has said “nothing of substance” so far about the ruling.
“The public needs to hear – why does he actually believe that these laws are good for kids?” Tuck said. “Because I know they’re not good for kids.”
Candidate forums with Tuck and Torlakson are set for Sept. 17 in Los Angeles and Sept. 27 in Burlingame.
Call The Bee’s Alexei Koseff, (916) 321-5236. Follow him on Twitter @akoseff.