Capitol Alert

Tom Torlakson will appeal California teacher tenure ruling

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson will appeal the June court ruling that California’s teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional, he decided Friday.

“The people who dedicate their lives to the teaching profession deserve our admiration and support. Instead, this ruling lays the failings of our education system at their feet,” Torlakson said in a statement.

“Its vagueness provides no guidance about how the Legislature could successfully alter the challenged statutes to satisfy the Court,” the statement continued. “Accordingly, I will ask the Attorney General to seek appellate review.”

The judge in the controversial Vergara v. State of California case issued a final ruling late Thursday affirming that California rules establishing a two-year probationary period for teacher tenure, the process for firing teachers and seniority-based layoffs unfairly deprived students of their constitutional right to equality of education.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote that these laws protect ineffective teachers, who are “disproportionately situated in schools serving predominately low-income and minority students.”

“The number of grossly ineffective teachers has a direct, real, appreciable, and negative impact on a significant number of California students, now and well into the future,” Treu said in his ruling. “It shocks the conscience.”

Torlakson was one of the defendants named in the case, brought by education nonprofit Students Matter on behalf of nine public school students, along with the state of California, Gov. Jerry Brown, the California Department of Education, the State Board of Education and three school districts. Teachers unions, strong supporters of Torlakson, have been highly critical of the ruling.

Pam Slater, a spokeswoman for the Department of Education, said Torlakson was waiting to review the final ruling before announcing his decision to seek an appeal.

Torlakson’s appeal could become a central issue in this year’s contentious race for state schools chief, which has become a proxy battle over California’s teacher hiring and dismissal practices. It drew more outside spending than any other in the state during the primary season, with millions pouring in for Torlakson from organized labor and for challenger Marshall Tuck from the private sector.

Tuck, a former charter schools executive, has repeatedly called on Torlakson not to appeal the Vergara decision and criticized him for not discussing his plans sooner.

“Torlakson is putting a pretty clear stake in the ground that he will never be an independent voice for kids and he will stick to the status quo,” Tuck spokeswoman Cynara Lilly said. “It’s not surprising that he’s chosen to stand with his deep-pocketed allies” in the teachers unions.

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