Vergara Appeal Decision

Chris Reed
San Diego Union Tribune editorial writer and former host of KOGO Radio’s “Top Story” weeknight news talk show

To an astounding degree, prominent California Democrats have so far avoided substantive comment on Judge Rolf Treu’s landmark — but tentative – June 10 ruling in Los Angeles Superior Court that teacher tenure laws are so harmful to minority students in poor neighborhoods that it “shocks the conscience.”

A spokesman for Attorney General Kamala Harris told me repeatedly that the AG’s office wasn’t deciding on whether to appeal. He said Harris would do what her clients wanted. Gov. Jerry Brown and state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson are named plaintiffs in the case, and if either or both want to appeal, I was told, Harris would then appeal.

Treu is expected to issue a final ruling by Sept.10, at which point an appeal decision must be finalized.

But even if that is delayed, Brown and Torlakson will certainly face pressure to explain their stands because they are running for re-election. Torlakson is in the much tougher race, against experienced Democratic education reformer Marshall Tuck, than Brown, who faces neophyte GOPer Neel Kashkari.

Vulnerable Torlakson still likely to back unpopular side

Yet it is Torlakson who is far likelier than Brown to take the unpopular stand of siding with crazy tenure laws that give teachers lifetime job protections after 16 months.

That’s because his greatest patron during his political rise — the California Teachers Association — is appealing Treu’s ruling. Torlakson has to join the CTA in defending the status quo that argues that school quality is a function of school spending, and that if only schools would spend more on veteran teachers’ salaries, schools would get better.

If Torlakson didn’t appeal a ruling premised on the idea that the CTA was bad for minorities, that would be mind-boggling.

A career-defining moment for Jerry Brown

The stakes are far higher for the governor. He is on cruise control for re-election, so if he backed an appeal — especially on narrow grounds — he wouldn’t face the blowback that Torlakson would.

But at this point in his life, Brown isn’t necessarily thinking about the short term. He may be thinking about history and his lasting legacies.

The last governor thought this way. Leading the biggest, richest, most trendsetting state apparently inspires this view of the California gov job. It’s why Arnold championed AB 32 and bills that were forerunners of Obamacare.

The CTA may have plenty of wins on its plate of late, starting with the fake teacher-discipline bill and the scam that is the Local Control Funding Formula. But in the long haul of history, it can’t win with its argument that tenure after 16 months is OK, or its defense of policies under which school systems funnel their best teachers to the schools where they arguably are least needed.

Can a CA Dem admit that unions hurt minorities?

Brown is not a dolt. He knows this. He also knows that governors of big states have a direct say and sway over education that presidents don’t. So Brown must also know that even if President Obama already touts reforms focusing on teacher tenure and competence, if he decides to be a loud champion of the Vergara ruling, his historical standing will benefit immensely.

Though it will probably make his second term a much bigger headache. Once again, the Vergara ruling is predicated on the idea that teachers unions are bad for minorities. That is a very toxic premise to throw into the Dem mainstream debate. It’s one thing if an obscure Los Angeles judge makes the point. It’s another thing entirely if it’s Gov. Jerry Brown.

We shall see.

Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.

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