Raleigh, N.C. — Stripping veteran teachers of their tenure rights isn't illegal, a lawyer for the state argued Monday.
The North Carolina Supreme Court heard arguments over a 2013 state law that required teachers to surrender their due process rights as career educators to obtain raises and multi-year contracts. A divided Court of Appeals ruled last year that the legislation was unconstitutional.
Solicitor General John Maddrey told the justices that career status doesn't carry any state obligations because the contracts are between teachers and their local boards of education. The General Assembly was well within its rights to carry out policies to ensure that bad or mediocre teachers can be removed from public school classrooms, he said.
Narendra Ghosh, a Durham attorney representing the North Carolina Association of Educators, argued that the state was indeed violating a promise that teachers had relied on for years, choosing to teach in public schools instead of seeking better-paying jobs elsewhere because the career status rights offered more job security.
"When the state promises valuable benefits to teachers, such as career status, and the teachers come to rely on those benefits, the state cannot strip away vested rights," Ghosh said.
Lower courts have upheld the 2013 law as it applies to new teachers who hadn't yet earned career status, and Ghosh said a number of principals and school superintendents have attested that the loss of that benefit has made it more difficult to attract and retain good teachers.
The General Assembly has since backed away from the tenure-for-pay swap for veteran teachers.
The Supreme Court isn't expected to rule for several weeks.