It may surprise you to learn how easy it is to become tenured in California's public school system–and also just how invulnerable a tenured teacher becomes.
An editorial in the Wall Street Journal elucidates:
Teachers in California receive tenure after two years, making them nearly impossible to fire. Fewer than 0.002% of teachers statewide are dismissed for unprofessional conduct or poor performance. Thousands are ranked grossly ineffective, yet only about 20 have been terminated over the last decade. In Los Angeles Unified School District, it takes upward of 10 years and between $250,000 to $450,000 to fire a teacher. Administrators typically reassign lousy teachers to less desirable schools in poor areas.
Four years ago a group of public school students decided to try to rectify this situation, which especially harms disadvantaged students. They filed a suit challenging the state's teacher-tenure system. Their suit Vergara v. State of California argued that kids from lo-income families are most harmed by state teacher tenure laws. They had plenty of ammunition: one study found that a single year with a "grossly ineffective teacher" can reduce the lifetime earnings of a student by $1.4 million.
Los Angeles County Superior Court Judge Rolf Treu was persuaded and he issued a ruling that struck down tenure laws. He said in the ruling that evidence of the destructiveness of the tenure system “shocks the conscience.” So far so good.
Unfortunately, a second state appellate court reached a different ruling. This court found that the student plaintiffs didn't have enough in common to make an equal-protection claims–in other words, they weren't all black or all Hispanic. The Wall Street Journal notes that this was odd since California’s Supreme Court has held that the "mere abridgement of a fundamental state right like education" is so serious that it in and of itself constitutes an equal protection violation.
The appellate court also said that the statues don't lead to disadvantaging certain students but rather the way the administrators apply the statues cause some to have available an inferior teacher. This would make is almost impossible to make an equal protection claim in California. The Wall Street Journal points out that this would mean that a school-funding formula that led to schools attended by low-income kids receiving less funding could not be challenged.
The plaintiffs have asked the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal. It is not at all certain that the Supreme Court will agree to hear the case. The Wall Street Journal urges the court to do so:
Vergara relies on a statistical disparate-impact analysis that the left uses to bludgeon businesses. We think disparate impact is unconstitutional, but if it’s the law then progressives can’t pick and choose when it applies. The nine students have asked California’s Supreme Court to hear the case, and the future of millions will depend on their decision.
Although this has nothing to do with equal-protection and other legal points, the case also raises again the perennial question: are the schools there to educate kids so that they will have the best grounding for life, or are the schools a mere jobs program for teachers?