- - Wednesday, June 18, 2014

A Los Angeles Superior Court judge did the unthinkable. In a case brought by underserved students of public schools, Judge Rolf Treu ruled that interests of the students in receiving an education exceeded the rights of their civil servants, i.e., their teachers, to a job. In no uncertain terms, that ruling represents a potential deathblow to public-employee unions, which they will fight like no other fight — even more than when they fought Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker.

What is the purpose of government? Most people, at least, hope that it is to provide certain services they think society can deliver better than individuals. National defense, police services and roads come to mind. Education, for many, is highest on the list. Presumably, constituents are interested in the quality of such services, along with their costs.

Government, however, does not specialize in being cost-effective. It tends to spend more than the private sector ever would to achieve the same — if not lesser — results. It does so because people in government are not spending their own money, and often there are no consequences for the failure to deliver services except in extreme circumstances. The Veterans Affairs controversy is one such example.

The education system of California is a prime example of the insulation of government from accountability. California ranks among the lowest in performance for all states and features dropout rates for minorities in Los Angeles high schools exceeding 60 percent. This is an unconscionable result for any government service — let alone one that affects our children so much.

Those results don’t mean that the education industry in California isn’t thriving. Protected by compulsory education laws, huge budgets, teacher-tenure laws and the near-impossibility of firing teachers, public education is big business — a protected big business.

In Los Angeles, a single judge, however, declared the education system had no clothes. After a trial that laid bare the terrible results that especially affect inner-city students and saddles them with the worst of teachers, the judge made an astounding judicial finding in this day and age.

He ruled that the rights of customers of government were more important than those of the government providers and, therefore, government has to change. The rules of tenure and termination must change, so said the judge, to make sure that children are actually served. However common sense that may sound, it is a largely foreign concept in this age of big government.

The story likely will not end there. Well beyond the case at hand, the judge’s rationale could apply to every aspect of government services. The ruling could set off a firestorm of reform, which is exactly why public unions, using your tax money, will fight this ruling tooth and nail.

In 2011, public-sector unions faced a similar existential crisis in the form of Mr. Walker in Wisconsin. He succeeded in changing, at least for now, the priorities of Wisconsin government: The rights of taxpayers and citizens would be paramount over those of public-sector unions.

Recognizing a gantlet thrown when they saw one, public-sector unions waged a national recall of Mr. Walker. They understood that if Mr. Walker succeeded in a state like Wisconsin, it could happen elsewhere. Mr. Walker did succeed. Wisconsin has recovered from its budget crisis and is prospering. The unions lost as a practical matter and a political matter — and their numbers have dwindled.

In California, they know they must lose again. Keep in mind that competition between government employees and the citizenry is a growing divide. Government is far larger than taxpayers can sustain, and the problem is getting astronomically worse. California governments, from the city level to the state, are said to have $1.1 trillion in debt.

No matter for the education establishment. A single judge may well have fired the shot heard ‘round the government. The outcome of this battle could revolutionize the political landscape in America for decades to come.

Thomas Del Beccaro is a former chairman of the California Republican Party.