Vergara v. California
With the help of Students Matter, nine California public school children filed the statewide lawsuit Vergara v. California against the State of California in May 2012 to strike down the laws handcuffing schools from doing what’s best for kids when it comes to teachers. Meet the Plaintiffs.
The court’s historic decision in Vergara v. California reaffirmed the fundamental, Constitutional right of every student to learn from effective teachers and have an equal opportunity to succeed in school. Visit the Students Matter Victory page for the best quotes from Judge Treu’s ruling, an FAQ on what happens next, and key facts and statistics from the compelling evidence presented at trial.
We think it’s simple: reward and retain excellent teachers and hold those accountable who are failing our children. By striking down the following laws, Vergara v. California will create an opportunity for lawmakers, teachers, administrators and community leaders to design a system that’s good for both teachers and students. Because Californians shouldn’t have to choose: We can create an education system that gives every child a passionate, motivating and effective teacher and gives effective teachers the respect and rewarding careers they deserve.
- Permanent Employment Statute: The permanent employment law forces administrators to either grant or deny permanent employment to teachers after an evaluation period of less than 16 months—before new teachers even complete their beginner teacher induction programs and before administrators are able to assess whether a teacher will be effective long-term.
- Dismissal Statutes: The process for dismissing a single ineffective teacher involves a borderline infinite number of steps, requires years of documentation, costs hundreds of thousands of dollars and still, rarely ever works. Out of 275,000 teachers statewide, 2.2 teachers are dismissed for unsatisfactory performance per year on average, which amounts to 0.0008 percent.
- “Last-In, First-Out” (“LIFO”) Layoff Statute: The “LIFO” law forces school districts to base layoffs on seniority alone, with no consideration of teachers’ performance in the classroom.
In May 2013, the state’s two largest teachers unions, the California Teachers Association (CTA) and the California Federation of Teachers (CFT), intervened in the case to defend these statutes alongside the State. The two-month trial for Vergara v. California began on January 27, 2014 and concluded on March 27, 2014.
The State, the CTA and the CFT appealed the trial court’s historic decision in Vergara to the California Court of Appeal, Second District. Click here to read Plaintiffs’ brief in response. As the Vergara appeal continued, prominent groups and individuals across California and the country filed amicus curiae — or “friend of the court” — briefs in support of the Superior Court’s groundbreaking decision. Amici included two former governors, constitutional law scholars, social justice and civil rights groups, business organizations and California public school teachers and parents.
The Second Division of the California Court of Appeal’s Second District heard oral argument in the Vergara appeal on February 25, 2016. During oral argument, Plaintiffs’ legal team stressed the legal precedent that supports the students’ case and emphasized the overwhelming evidence from trial that the challenged statutes harm California students — particularly students of color and those from low-income families.
On April 14, 2016, a three-judge panel of the California Court of Appeal overturned the historic Superior Court decision, ruling against the nine student Plaintiffs. The Court of Appeal’s flawed ruling, filled with legal and factual errors, contradicted California Supreme Court precedent and other appellate decisions. Plaintiffs and their legal team immediately announced their intentions to appeal the Court of Appeal’s decision to the California Supreme Court, and newspaper editorial boards across California criticized the ruling and called on the California Legislature to take meaningful action to improved the harmful statutes challenged by the lawsuit.
California Supreme Court
On August 22, 2016, the California Supreme Court announced that they had declined to review the groundbreaking education equality lawsuit, denying the nine brave student plaintiffs their day in front of the state’s highest court. Notably, however, three of the seven Justices — Justices Liu and Cuéllar (appointed by Governor Jerry Brown) and Justice Chin (appointed by Governor Pete Wilson) — believed that the petition should be granted. In his dissenting opinion, Justice Liu said:
Because the questions presented have obvious statewide importance, and because they involve a significant legal issue on which the Court of Appeal likely erred, this court should grant review.
In his dissenting opinion, Justice Cuéllar said:
There is a difference between the usual blemishes in governance left as institutions implement statutes or engage in routine trade-offs and those staggering failures that threaten to turn the right to education for California schoolchildren into an empty promise. Knowing the difference is as fundamental as education itself. Which is why I would grant review.
This decision fell short of the binding mandate for change that California voters, students, parents and educators had hoped for, but the issues at the heart of Vergara are not going away — and neither is Students Matter.
We have all seen the evidence of the harm caused by the challenged laws — evidence that two courts have called ‘extremely troubling’ and said ‘shocks the conscience.’ No longer can the State of California hide behind a veil of ignorance in choosing to do nothing to protect its public school students. We know the problem, and we know how to fix it.
The Supreme Court’s decision placed the responsibility for improving the state’s teacher retention, evaluation and dismissal laws squarely with the California Legislature. And that’s where we intend to take this fight. The urgency remains to give California students and teachers the policy changes they demand and deserve. We aren’t backing down until every child has access to a great teacher and a quality education.