In 2014, a verdict arrived in the Vergara v. California case—in which nine school children brought suit arguing that provisions of state law that block the firing of poor teachers unconscionably degrade the quality of public education available to California children. The students’ legal costs were covered by Silicon Valley entrepreneur and philanthropist Dave Welch. The Los Angeles County judge’s decision struck down lifetime tenure, obstacles to dismissal, layoff rules blocking administrators from keeping their best instructors, and other constraints demanded by unions, because they result in “a significant number of grossly ineffective teachers currently active in California classrooms.” The ruling will be appealed, but sets an historic precedent for ending traditional school-contract terms that place the interests of school employees above those of students.
Welch’s funding, channeled through the nonprofit Students Matter, is part of a longer tradition of public-interest law philanthropy on behalf of educational improvement. Donor-funded groups like the Institute for Justice and the Goldwater Institute have litigated over many years to protect school choice, educational tax credits, charter schools, and other elements of school reform.