If one was to examine why some poor children fail in schools and attempted to come up with the reasons why, they might say huge budget shortfalls, poverty, poor parenting skills, disparity between rich and poor neighborhood school funding, unsafe school environments, or a lack of access to technology. However, if you are corporate moguls, billionaires, and privatization advocates, the only reason nine poor students failed is because of public school teachers’ due process protections. Due process protections include not being fired without a reason, receiving a fair hearing when a parent complains their child did not earn a high grade, or worst of all belonging to a union. None of those due process protections have any impact on teacher competence or a students’ success, but being assigned a teaching position in a poor neighborhood with underfunded schools does.
What the Republican Party, Koch brothers, Michelle Rhee, the religious right, and billionaire corporate owners all have in common regarding education is destroying public schools, privatizing the education system, and breaking teachers’ unions. There have been unsuccessful attempts in the past to privatize California’s public school system, but the public and legislature are adamantly opposed, so a conglomerate of billionaires, corporations, and for-profit charter school advocates appealed to a Republican judge for assistance and he complied. On Tuesday a judge ruled in a lawsuit filed by billionaires that California teachers’ due process protections are unconstitutional and the reason nine students in poor neighborhood schools were unsuccessful.
The lawsuit was brought by a group called Students Matter, which is led by a Silicon Valley optical entrepreneur David Welch who has absolutely no education experience and is closely aligned with such notable figures in the anti-union, pro-charter, school privatization movement such as Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst and Eli Broad. The joke of the billionaires’ lawsuit against due process for teachers is that the focus was “education equality” that has nothing whatsoever to do with due process protections and tenure. For the record, tenure means a teacher cannot be terminated without the administrator giving a reason (cause). Without tenure, a teacher can be fired because a parent complains their lazy brat did not earn an A, or an administrator’s sexual advances were rebuffed. There is no such thing as a guaranteed lifetime teaching job, but that is not what the billionaires’ lawsuit presented to the judge.
The theme of the judge’s ruling parroted the plaintiffs complaint that because 9 students in poor neighborhoods attended woefully underfunded schools, the billionaires claimed their education was inadequate because of tenure and a teachers’ right to a fair hearing in case of accusations of misconduct. The billionaires’ lawsuit alleged those due process laws violate the California Constitution by denying children in poor public schools their constitutional right to a quality public education. The lawsuit seemed absurd on its face, and it appeared that to prove their case the billionaires would have to convince the Republican-appointed judge that, beyond a shadow of a doubt, eliminating public teachers’ due process will result in students in poor schools getting a better education.
For a brief history of why California schools are so dreadfully underfunded, it is important to understand that throughout the 1970s, California’s schools were among the best in the nation. However, the success of a conservative anti-tax amendment, Proposition 13, substantially slashed revenue from property taxes and prevented local governments from passing measures to raise revenue without at least a two-thirds supermajority vote. It is not a mystery why the billionaires did not file a lawsuit to strike down the anti-tax measure that is starving public schools to restore adequate education funding because that would not break teacher unions, privatize public schools, or eliminate teachers’ due process protections.
The lawsuit was the brainchild of the man behind Students Matter, a close affiliate of privatization, charter school advocate Michelle Rhee’s Students first. The man, Silicon Valley entrepreneur David Welch, is a wealthy elite businessman and researcher who made his fortune in the field of optical devices and optical transport systems for telecommunications networks. He is not an educator, education administrator, or remotely related to advancing anything to do with public education other than crusading for profit-driven schools, busting teacher unions, and eliminating teachers’ due process legal protections. Welch or his billionaire corporate cohort were not interested in helping nine students in poor neighborhoods get an education.
The group of Silicon Valley billionaires is now preparing to file the exact same lawsuit, likely using nine different students’ names, in New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Oregon, New Mexico, Idaho, and Kansas as well as every other state with strong teacher unions and populations that do not support school privatization.
The president of the California Federation of Teachers, Joshua Pechthalt said, “We believe the judge fell victim to the anti-union, anti-teacher rhetoric and one of America’s finest ‘corporate law firms’ that set out to scapegoat teachers for the real problems that exist in public education.” The factors that the billionaires should have addressed that would make a difference in a better education system besides adequate funding are the social and economic inequalities of low-income neighborhoods and students that any real educator knows are determining factors to successful learning.
The billionaires’ lawsuit had absolutely nothing to do with guaranteeing a quality public education to students in poor neighborhoods, and was solely about eliminating, what the supporters of Students Matter believe is, the biggest obstacle to a privatized education system; teacher unions, due process protections, and decent salaries. Anti-public education advocates have tried various methods to privatize education and destroy public schools whether it was the Koch-puppet and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker single-handedly eliminating collective bargaining arrangements for teachers or Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal shifting public school funding to private religious schools to inculcate students in the Christian religion.
If the billionaires were concerned about nine students in poor neighborhoods with underfunded schools, poor parenting skills, or their education, they would have filed a lawsuit against the school districts where the students attended. However, they did not and their motive is clear; punish every teacher in the state whether they are highly qualified and successful or not. California is going to appeal the ruling and one cannot understand how a judge not beholden to school privatization advocates, Koch’s anti-union schemes, and anti-public education crusaders will possibly connect teachers’ due process protections to underfunded schools or students in less-than-ideal home learning environments.
However, with a robust anti-union, anti-teacher, and anti-public school cult of billionaires determined to make a profit at the expense of students, teachers, and taxpayers, there is no guarantee the appellate judges will not go the way of the conservative Supreme Court and grant corporations free rein to close down public schools, fire every teacher in California, and shift taxpayer dollars to corporate-owned and operated religious schools. That may not have been proffered to the judge as testimony in yesterday’s ruling, but that was the sole purpose of the corporate billionaires’ lawsuit and not, as they claimed, helping only nine poor students get an adequately-funded education.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.