Long a champion of educational equity, former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa gave an impassioned speech at the U.S. Conference of Mayors detailing the role he has played in the fight for better schools, including the landmark Vergara v. California lawsuit.
At the heart of his efforts is his struggle against teacher tenure and seniority regulations that disproportionately affect poor schools—dumping ineffective teachers in schools most in need of the best educators. He points to these inequities as a rallying cry to advocate for education as the civil rights issue of our time.
Mayor Villaraigosa, and many other education reformers, are not opposed to teachers unions. The mayor began his career as a local labor organizer for United Teachers Los Angeles and spent 15 years working for other unions. Because of his experience as both an organizer and a politician, he has firsthand knowledge of the negative consequences of policies regarding teacher tenure affecting schools citywide.
During his two terms as mayor, Villaraigosa saw schools in low-income neighborhoods such as Watts lose on average 55 percent of their teachers through layoffs while the rest of the city lost only 3 percent. As a result, he pushed for the filing of Reed vs. State of California to prevent poor schools from being disproportionately affected by teacher layoffs.
Seniority is not just a problem in Los Angeles, the mayor says. Districts nationwide struggle with contract provisions that force principals to fire younger teachers they want to keep in exchange for teachers who are low-performing or not a good fit just because they have more years on the payroll.
Villaraigosa said in his speech:
We’re not putting kids first as a general proposition and particularly poor kids. We’re leaving them behind. We’re not giving them the tools to succeed and have hope.