Justice's Slow-Turning Wheel: CEA's Opening Tenure Appeal Argument

When I told you last week about the Colorado Supreme Court hearing in the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program case, it came home just how slowly the wheels of justice turn. At least that’s how it seems from the perspective of a perpetual 5 year old.

But I hadn’t given much thought to how redundant education-related legal proceedings can seem to be until this morning. That’s when I saw the headline from Chalkbeat Colorado, “Teachers union files appeal in mutual-consent lawsuit”. I scratched my head, thinking haven’t we crossed the same point on this road before?

The day after Denver District Court Judge Michael Martinez shot down the longshot lawsuit to make teacher tenure a constitutionally protected right, the Denver Post reported that the Colorado Education Association planned to appeal the ruling. But of course, as my parents can tell you, planning and doing are often two very different things.

On July 15, in the middle of the hot summer break, CEA & Company filed its official notice of appeal with the Court of Appeals. Then, three months later on October 17, the Court set the briefing schedule. That’s what my Education Policy Center friend Ben DeGrow talked about on air with Luke Ragland of Colorado Succeeds.

The original deadline for CEA’s opening brief to the court was November 28. But as I’ve been learning, these cases often don’t unfold on schedule. Otherwise, I might have made the recent Chalkbeat headline “Little Education Wonks Have to Wait Two Extra Weeks for Unions to Argue Again Why Tenure Should Be a Constitutional Right.” (Rightly, my tendency to produce excessively long headlines has kept me from having that job.)

Here’s the question: Is the new system of “mutual consent” — in which a principal must sign off on having a particular teacher transferred into his or her school — perfect? No, of course not. But it’s a lot better than the old “forced placement” system? Clearly yes. Yet the CEA and crew are fighting not only to keep the good old days alive, but to enshrine them with the force of our state’s highest law.

And, I should add, they’re fighting on multiple fronts. The lawsuit is the visible centerpiece of the union’s pro-tenure push. But there is always the chance they will make another legislative effort to roll back, or further delay, reform. Would they be successful? It seems doubtful, though it’s hard to say. Finally, there’s the ongoing work of weighing down the implementation of SB 191 with bureaucratic sandbags to help it get stuck in the mud, or at least ensure it doesn’t work as intended.

That’s a big shame, because most of the key pieces of SB 191 were genuinely needed, commonsense improvements to our K-12 system. Yet it points to the inherent challenge of attempting major fixes from within the existing K-12 system.

Which is why I go back to where this post began, and hope that changes like the Douglas County Choice Scholarship Program survive and ultimately thrive. Students need it now, sooner than the slow-moving legal system will allow. Hang in there, everyone!