America's Future on Trial: How Vergara and Harris Hurt Public Schools and Public Workers

In the face of stagnating wages and economic distress, two recent court decisions driven by anti-worker extremists threaten to undermine workers’ ability to unite for good jobs. The Vergara v. California and Harris v. Quinn decisions are part of a broader attack on working people and low-income communities and schools that is funded by right-wing billionaires such as the Koch brothers and the Walton family.

Harris v. Quinn could affect hundreds of thousands of home care workers who have lifted themselves out of poverty by joining together in a union. The case limits their ability to pool their resources to have a strong voice, potentially leading to lower wages and higher turnover—putting quality care for seniors and people with disabilities in jeopardy.

The Vergara v. California decision issued by a Los Angeles Superior Court Judge highlights the need for states to ensure equitable school systems for all students. However, it also threatens to further deteriorate learning conditions for students with the greatest needs by attacking rights to due process, which supports teachers who innovate in the classroom and advocate for their students – thereby strengthening public education. It does this by pitting teachers and students against each other, increasing reliance on standardized testing, and not addressing the chronic issue of teacher turnover. Where due process laws need to be improved, we must do so. But, let's be clear: abandoning due process will not help alleviate teacher turnover or the out-of-school factors – like poverty and segregation – that impact student achievement.

These attacks focus on sectors that employ high numbers of women and people of color. The Harris v. Quinn decision affects home care workers, 89% of whom are women and 48% are people of color. Similarly, the Vergara decision attacks public school teachers, who are 75% female. The attacks led by such extremists threaten to destabilize families, schools and communities that depend on having well-qualified people doing the crucial work of caring for and educating others. Undermining the ability of these workers to receive living wages and fair working conditions threatens their own economic stability, the safety and well-being of those they care for and the communities in which they live.

The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools recognizes how critical it is for schools that serve low-income students of color to be staffed with teachers that are not only fully prepared and competent to support diverse learners, but also committed to student success. Students of color in this country have historically been denied equal access to educational resources, including credentialed teachers, early childhood learning, challenging instruction and curriculum. Additionally, many face criminalizing responses for misbehavior that push them out of school and into the juvenile justice system.

While due process regulations can be improved, they are not the reason for high rates of teacher turnover in schools in low-income neighborhoods.  More central is the chronic lack of experienced and well-prepared teachers. Educational inequities in access to great teaching are exacerbated by a lack of funding to adequately address the health and social needs of students with high-quality instruction and services that are prevalent in many community school models.

Schools serving low-income communities of color need excellent teachers who are appropriately trained and then supported in their development to create thriving learning environments. Similarly, all senior citizens and people with disabilities deserve quality care that allows them to live with dignity at home. Job stability and fair compensation for all workers is essential to lifting communities into economic stability.

The well-being of our country rests on our ability to end poverty and provide meaningful opportunities for all.