An education advocacy group known for supporting charter schools is pushing a ballot initiative that would streamline the process for firing abusive teachers, after bills on the subject failed in back-to-back years.
Amplifying criticisms that dismissing teachers often entails a drawn-out, costly process, lawmakers this year sent Gov. Jerry Brown a bill to expedite proceedings. Brown vetoed the bill, saying its prescriptions were too rigid and suggesting it might backfire and lengthen dismissal proceedings.
The demise of the bill, authored by Assemblywoman Joan Buchanan, D-Alamo, came a year after a teacher firing bill by Sen. Alex Padilla, D-Los Angeles, crumbled in committee amid opposition from the California Teachers Association. Padilla's bill responded to a storm of outrage following a series of sexual misconduct cases in Los Angeles Unified School District.
The proposed ballot measure has been submitted by EdVoice, a nonprofit that backs charters and pushes an education agenda often at odds with teacher unions. The measure similarly focuses on the worst offenders, setting up a compressed hearing process for teachers accused of severe offenses that include child molestation, child abuse and offering drugs to students.
Those teachers would be stripped of certain protections. Unlike with other teachers, whose firing goes before a three-person panel that includes two fellow educators, the fate of teachers accused of extraordinary misconduct would be in hands of an administrative law judge. Their cases would be prioritized and heard before other pending firing cases.
As with Buchanan's bill, the ballot initiative would make the adjudicating panel's decision binding and would allow older evidence to be used in cases revolving around allegations of sexual abuse.
The California Attorney General's office has yet to review the proposal, which would still need to gather the requisite number of signatures before going to the ballot, although the Legislative Analyst's Office has released a summary.
"As we've witnessed over the last two or three legislative cycles, the Legislature has gotten caught up in trying to make the issue of improving the law contingent on treating everyone the same," said Bill Lucia, the president and CEO of EdVoice, adding that the initiative draws a "bright line about the type of the more egregious version of misconduct."
Teachers' association spokeswoman Claudia Briggs said the group had not taken a position. "Our members are the last ones who want child molestors in the schools," she said. "It's another measure that's being proposed that hasn't been qualified (for the ballot) yet, so we at CTA don't have a position on it "
PHOTO: A first-grader during a yoga class at Paul Ecke Central Elementary School in Encinitas, Calif., Dec. 11, 2012. The New York Times/T. Lynne Pixley.