Growing up, April was that kid who always finished her schoolwork first, eagerly raising her hand to find out what was next. She excelled in math, and, as she got closer to college, teachers and other adults guided her toward business, arguing it would be the best use of her math skills. Despite her secret desire to be a teacher, she ended up following their advice.
While working in business and finance in New York City, April started volunteering with a non-profit where she mentored kids in need. She worked with a girl named Kishana, and April’s original passion for teaching was reignited. So she made the decision to leave her career in finance and follow her original passion into the classroom. She has now been a teacher in Los Angeles for five years and is thankful every day for the inspiration Kishana gave her to work with kids.
April is a proud union member, and she wants to remain a member as long as she is in the classroom. But, through some work with a local teacher group, she became aware that a good portion of her union dues wasn’t actually going towards the union’s collective bargaining activities, but instead to fund non-education-related political causes, such as propositions relating to prescription drug costs and regulation of electricity companies.
April believes in fairness and common sense. She is happy to pay union dues that improve the lives of teachers and students. But she doesn’t want to be forced into choosing between union membership and political causes that she doesn’t feel are connected to the classroom. She joined this case to make certain that no teachers face this unfair choice.
Bhavini has been a teacher in California for over ten years. She has won awards for her work in the classroom, and she has been a leading voice in the effort to change the education system to better serve students. In 2014, she delivered powerful testimony in the landmark Vergara v. California case, where she described in detail her experience of being laid off at the end of almost every school year during her first nine years of teaching. Her story was a vivid reminder of how California’s teacher employment laws deprive students of their constitutional right to education.
Bhavini’s work on Vergara was not the first time she advocated for reform. In 2013, she worked with several education reform groups to pass legislation enacting a new teacher evaluation system. She spoke in front of the California Senate Education Committee and urged them to vote “yes” on Senate Bill 441. She watched with growing frustration as the bill stalled in committee, with six senators refusing to even cast a vote.
These experiences have been difficult for Bhavini. Although she remains committed to her classroom and students, she is increasingly troubled by the problems facing California schools and her union’s opposition to change. Through her work with education reform groups, Bhavini learned that state level teachers unions are the biggest financial supporters of the very legislators who have blocked the reforms for which she has fought. Even more troubling is the fact that a good portion of her union dues goes to support harmful educational policies.
Bhavini fully believes in her local union. Despite her ideological differences, she values her local union’s representation and wants to pay her fair share for the benefits it provides. But right now the current system prevents her from remaining a local union member unless she helps fund the very policies that are blocking meaningful reforms that she believes are vital for teachers and students in California.
This fundamental unfairness led her to this case. She hopes that the court will protect her First Amendment rights and ensure that neither she nor any teacher can be forced to support political causes with which they disagree.
Clare Sobetski was raised with a commitment to community service and political awareness. She was involved in local politics from a young age, and ended up volunteering for President Obama’s 2008 election campaign. After college, she sought out opportunities that allowed her to continue to work in the community on issues she cared about. This led her to become a Teach for America teacher in Richmond, California.
Over the past two years, Clare’s passion for education has blossomed. Indeed, she has decided to remain a teacher past the two-year Teach for America commitment, and is excited to start her third year of teaching this coming fall. Her commitment to political activity has also stuck with her: Clare serves as her high school’s union representative and through that role knows the value of a strong union.
But one of Clare’s biggest concerns about the future of her community and country is the entanglement of money in politics. California’s teachers’ unions are the largest special interest group in the state. Even more upsetting to Clare is the fact that a portion of her union dues contributes to this disproportionate influence.
Clare asked her union if she could prevent her money from supporting the union’s political candidates and ballot measures. She didn’t like the answer that she received—her choice was to continue to make these political contributions or be stripped of union membership and employment-related benefits.
Clare doesn’t believe anyone should face this kind of choice. The union should be required to make a case for candidates or ballot measures and then ask for donations, rather than simply forcing teachers like Clare to fund their political work. Clare is passionate about education, service, and following her convictions, and this passion is what inspired her to get involved in this case.