The issue of teacher tenure and performance was reprised this week thanks to a new poll by the LA Times and the University of Southern California. The education-focussed poll revealed that seven in ten voters believe the current system of tenure needs changing and more than eight in ten think decisions on teacher retention should involve aspects of teacher performance, not just seniority as the current system dictates.

Astute capitol-watcher John Myers at KQED reported on this poll in light of last summer’s Vergara ruling on teacher tenure and dismissal statutes, where a judge struck down wide swaths of California’s teacher tenure and dismissal rules. Myers noted it was “fascinating” that in light of Vergara and the recent overwhelming public support for reforming the teaching profession, nothing was happening in the legislature in response. Unfortunately for those with a stake in seeing these laws fixed, the legislature’s inaction is less fascinating than it is typical.

Since the California Supreme Court declared in the 1970s that education is a fundamental constitutional right, Californians have frequently turned to the courts to remedy educational injustices ignored by the legislature. But even as plaintiffs have found courts sympathetic, the limit of judicial power in the face of legislative intransigence is becoming clear.

In the 2010 Reed case, Los Angeles parents sued the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) claiming that the district’s (and state’s) policy of seniority-based teacher layoffs resulted in disproportionately high levels of teacher turnover in low-income schools (where less experienced teachers are often found). LAUSD quickly sought to settle the case by protecting more than 40 district schools from this last-in, first-out (LIFO) policy. Unfortunately, strong resistance to that settlement from the teachers union in Los Angeles killed the settlement. The result was a drawn out negotiation that led to an underwhelming 2014 agreement leaving the seniority system in place and providing three years worth of additional training and support for school staff at a mere 37 schools.

Again in Los Angeles in 2010, plaintiffs in Doe v. Deasy sued LAUSD for ignoring a 40 year-old state statute requiring districts to use student test scores in some meaningful manner when evaluating teacher performance. Despite a favorable court ruling in 2012 requiring LAUSD and the union to come up with a compliant evaluation system, the legislature not only declined to take the opportunity to strengthen that law, a union-backed proposal to weaken it was nearly pushed through in the final days of the 2012 legislative session. The law remains largely ignored.

Last year’s Vergara decision was breathlessly hailed as the game changer for California education as a judge ruled that the state’s teacher tenure, dismissal and layoff policies were unconstitutional. News organizations nationwide pondered whether this was the end of tenure in California. However, that decision is on hold pending appeal, a process that could take years. And like the Reed case, the teachers union and its allies in the legislature are perfectly willing to let this process play out with the current law on the books and the prospect of a more favorable outcome down the road.

Each of the cases above was hailed at the time of decision as a catalyst for substantive change and each time the legislature took a walk, undoubtedly due to unyielding opposition from teachers unions, whose support (or fear of opposition) drives nearly all the legislature’s Democrats.

In Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play Waiting for Godot, two men loiter next to a tree, waiting in vain for Godot to arrive only to be told at the end of each act that he is not arriving today but will surely arrive tomorrow.

While there is no way completely around the money or power wielded by the teachers union, the halls of power in Sacramento are where its influence and power has the greatest leverage. It’s time to look to the more than 1,000 school districts and the ballot box to make real change. Otherwise, reformers will spend another day looking down the road for the legislature to arrive only to be told not today, but surely tomorrow.