Retiring Teacher Seniority in California?

California is legendary for its protection of unionized teachers. But if a new measure makes it onto the November ballot, voters would decide whether California teachers would have to bank on more than seniority to keep their jobs.

Matt David of StudentsFirst submitted the measure to the Secretary of State last month, where it’s awaiting a title and a summary before signatures can be gathered. The issue of teacher seniority remains a contentious issue in California. School districts have laid off more than 30,000 full-time teachers since 2007-08, largely based on who was hired last, not how well those teachers performed. Last year the Legislative Analyst’s Office reported that the “state values seniority in the layoff process.” Specifically:

Current law requires that districts lay off teachers in inverse seniority order. …basing employment decisions on the number of years served instead of teachers’ performance can lead to lower quality of the overall teacher workforce. California also is different than many other states—the majority do not prescribe seniority–based layoffs but rather allow school districts themselves to decide how to lay off their staff. …we recommend exploring statewide alternatives that could provide districts with the discretion to do what is in the best interest of their students. Ideally districts would use multiple factors in making layoff determinations. …[such as] student performance, teacher quality, and contributions to school community.

While many good teachers are likely being pink-slipped under California’s last-hired-first-fired policy, teachers accused of sexual offenses against students remain on the job and on the taxpayer payroll. As drafted, the proposed ballot measure make it easier to fire such teachers.

Improving the quality of California’s teaching workforce starts with sensible hiring and firing policies. This ballot measure will certainly be worth watching.

Vicki E, Alger is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute and Senior Fellow and Director of the Women for School Choice Project at the Independent Women’s Forum. She is the author of the Independent book, Failure: The Federal Misedukation of America’s Children.
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