Will Sacramento Act on Vergara?
by Daniella Martinez
Three years ago, my mom and I walked into a Los Angeles courtroom for the first day of the Vergara v. California trial. After years of moving around, trying to find a better school that would give me and my younger sister a shot at success, we had found one. But we wanted to make sure that in the future, families like ours didn’t have to give up everything just to get the quality public education we’re promised by the California Constitution.
Three years later, we’re still waiting for change. We’re still waiting for the California Legislature to finally affirm the simple and commonsense belief that all California students deserve great teachers and an equal opportunity to learn and succeed. But with the beginning of a new legislative session, I have hope.
Friday marks the anniversary of the beginning of the Vergara trial. Since the case’s disappointing conclusion last year, I’ve founded an organization in my school to support fellow students who, like me, want to become public school teachers. I also traveled to Sacramento last year, to meet with members of the Legislature and ask them to take meaningful, positive action on behalf of California public school students and teachers.
Just a couple weeks ago, I read that the Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court reiterated her original point that it is up to the Legislature to fix these broken laws. She said — and I agree — that this issue “is not going away.”
I’m not a policymaker. I don’t know the details of what the exact policy solution to our broken teacher employment system should be. But I do know this: I’ve had wonderful, passionate teachers who inspired me to learn — and to go into the teaching profession myself. And those teachers should be respected and rewarded for their hard work and investment in their students’ success.
I’ve also had teachers who never belonged in the classroom to begin with — but were protected by our failed system. Teachers who made me feel like I could never improve, no matter how hard I tried. I was embarrassed, hated school, and sometimes cried at the thought of going to school every day. Allowing those teachers to remain in the classroom — protected by an outdated system — is unfair to their students and to their hardworking colleagues, who are forced to pick up the slack.
Because I see what a difference a great teacher can have, I know I want to be a teacher when I grow up. I want to help students like my little sister learn to read. I want to teach young girls and boys math, so that they can one day grow up to be scientists or engineers — maybe helping launch astronauts into space, like the brave women in Hidden Figures.
In the past few months, I’ve heard California lawmakers talk about standing up for immigrant families — making sure everyone who works hard and contributes to our great state has a shot at the American Dream. I’ve heard leaders in Sacramento say that our government will protect vulnerable communities who face increased uncertainty in this new era.
I support them. And I hope — I’m asking them, on behalf of the millions of public school students (and thousands of aspiring teachers like me) across our state, to take action. Not sometime in the future. This year. I’m asking them to have the courage to work together, to address outdated laws that trap students in failing classrooms. To reward dedicated and hardworking teachers with the protections they deserve, while also ensuring that the most vulnerable students among us have access to the great teachers we deserve.
California can be a state where every child, no matter his or her race, immigration status or zip code, has the opportunity to learn and get ahead. We have the chance to be a beacon of hope to the rest of our country — to say with one voice, that all children deserve a shot at success. Will we take it?
Daniella Martinez is a fifteen-year-old high school student from San Jose, California. Daniella was one of nine student plaintiffs in the groundbreaking education equality lawsuit, Vergara v. California.