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Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg and civil rights groups lost big Tuesday when an Assembly committee rejected his legislation that would have changed how teachers are laid off.

Steinberg's loss in the Assembly Appropriations Committee was a win for teacher unions and other education interests, including the giant Los Angeles Unified School District, which had opposed his bill that would require layoffs not to disproportionately affect low-performing schools.

The bill, which has had several numbers but finally settled in Senate Bill 691, was a followup to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against LA Unified earlier this year, alleging that low-performing schools, especially those with large numbers of non-white students, had been adversely affected by layoffs and reassignments when strict seniority rules were followed.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger supports the lawsuit and also wanted legislation, although not precisely what Steinberg was willing to do. "It is unacceptable that school districts cannot determine their staffing based on the needs of students, and that is exactly why I am introducing this legislation and supporting the ACLU lawsuit," Schwarzenegger said recently in backing the lawsuit.

As finally written, SB 691 would have required that layoffs and reassignments not cause any more staff disruption in low-performing schools than in the district as a whole. "This is about teaching stability," Steinberg told the Appropriations Committee before the roll call in which the measure received just four votes.

Republicans laid off the bill, apparently because they wanted to go further than Steinberg in requiring school districts to use teachers' performance - what's called "value added" - as shown by students' test scores to decide which instructors should lose their jobs.

But Democrats with ties to the California Teachers Association and other school unions also refused to vote for the bill, including Assemblyman Tom Torlakson, D-Pittsburg, the union-backed candidate for state schools superintendent this year. "It's just not had enough time," Torlakson told Steinberg, adding, "the goals are noble."


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