Supreme Court upholds tenure rights for veteran teachers

Posted April 15, 2016

— Veteran teachers will keep their career status rights, what some call tenure, under a unanimous ruling issued by the state Supreme Court Friday.

The decision stems from a 2013 state law that would have forced teachers who had earned certain job protections to give those up starting in 2018. However, the ruling does not affect younger teachers who were hired after the 2013 law went into effect or teachers who had not served long enough to have achieved career status.

"We are glad the Court recognized the General Assembly’s attempt to strip away rights from teachers as unconstitutional," Rodney Ellis, president of the North Carolina Association of Educators, said in a statement.

The NCAE and five veteran teachers had sued to overturn the law. Ellis vowed to keep pushing lawmakers to give career status to teachers who are currently excluded from the protections.

"Career status is an important tool to recruit and retain quality educators, just like fair compensation and working and learning conditions that lead to student success," he said.

Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, said he was disappointed in the ruling but pleased that the court allowed the state to eliminate tenure for new teachers.

"While we are disappointed in today’s decision, we are pleased that the law eliminating tenure on a going-forward basis has been upheld so our students can receive the best educational outcomes," Berger said.

House Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, said they he would "respect" the ruling. "I believe that we need to focus on recruiting and retaining the best teachers for our classrooms and great teachers should be rewarded for their work. We need to continue to push for policies that allow local school administrators to remove teachers that consistently underperform."

Tenure rights have been part of a broader debate about reforming education, with Republicans who control the General Assembly arguing that state school systems need to be more nimble and better able to spur teachers to success. Democrats and teachers groups have argued that career status protects teachers from the whims of an oft-changing cast of administrators and occasionally unreasonable parents.

When lawmakers moved to strip tenure rights in 2013, they did it as part of a state budget proposal that carried a number of education reform measures. In 2014, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood overturned the tenure revocation, and in 2015, the Court of Appeals upheld Hobgood's ruling.

"While we acknowledge that the retroactive repeal was motivated by the General Assembly’s valid concern for flexibility in dismissing low-performing teachers, we do not see how repealing career status from those for whom that right had already vested was necessary and reasonable," Justice Bob Edmunds wrote for the Supreme Court this week.

Edmunds went on to conclude, "The vested contractual rights of those teachers were substantially impaired without adequate justification, in violation of the Contract Clause of the United States Constitution."


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  • Sam Nada Apr 16, 2016
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    It's not reasonable to eliminate tenure going forward if NC wants to be competitive in attracting good teachers. But then education isn't a priority for the GOP so it's no surprise.

  • John Townsend Apr 16, 2016
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    A reasonable outcome. Tenure is eliminated going forward but not for people who currently have it.

  • Matt Nickeson Apr 16, 2016
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    Did any of the commenters actually read the article or court decision? The ruling did not strike down the law, only the retroactive provision. They even stated in their opinion that the idea wasn't unreasonable.

  • Thomas Morris Apr 15, 2016
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    My arguments for previous post:
    (1) if we can apply tax breaks for corporation and apply taxes for entertainment and usage, we can apply tax code to education; (2) its a thing called "big yellow bus" that runs everyday, and if you can't be inconvenience yourself for 2-3 more years of taxi service, maybe you shouldn't have had kids; and (3) if your child has to work to help support the family, you shouldn't have had kids (in my experience, the car is the big reason for the job; eliminate car, no need for job).

  • Thomas Morris Apr 15, 2016
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    What about parents that underperform in their role? Or students who underperform in theirs? That's the problem with education: only one of the three involved parties is held responsible by our government. If the legislature would pass three laws, none of which violate a student's right to an education, I bet our educational performance would make an upswing: 1) tax breaks/penalties for parents based on student performance; 2) driver's license issuance (with grandfather provision for older drivers) requires high school diploma; and (3) cannot hold a job without a high school diploma, with a provisional certificate available for periods when school is out of session (summer break or track outs during year round calendar).

  • Ron Coleman Apr 15, 2016
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    It seems that the laws the legislature pass the courts strike down. The people in Raleigh need to get their heads out of their duffel bags and stop wasting our tax dollars.

  • Betsy Sparks Apr 15, 2016
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    There's been concern about how to attract and retain talented teachers. NC isn't using pay to attract them. Taking away tenure from new teachers is just one more reason for qualified people to teach in other states. As Yashi Macha stated, tenure just prevents firing a teacher without giving that teacher a hearing first.

    Why would anyone want to teach in NC? The pay is ridiculously low, there's no Teaching Fellows program to keep teachers from huge student loans, and there's no job security. NC is asking teachers to take on loads of student loan debt, get much lower pay than they could elsewhere, and will not even let them have due process to give them tenure. NC government claims they want to improve education, but they just give potential teachers more incentives to stay away from NC schools.

  • Raleigh Rose Apr 15, 2016
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    One thing I don't understand (well I do, it just doesn't make any sense) is when did teachers become the bad guys? Teaching is an extremely challenging profession that people certainly don't do for the money. The pay is not great, especially for all the work put in. Why did the GOP choose to go after people who are in one of the most selfless careers and one that gives so much back to our society?

  • Jason Arnold Apr 15, 2016
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    As a "Veteran" teacher of 15 years- all tenure really gives us is a hearing to present a case why we shouldn't be fired, before the school system fires you...without it, they can fire any teacher for any reason at any time. All they would have to do is not renew the teachers contract.

  • Fanny Chmelar Apr 15, 2016
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    Tenure is a needed protection. In a nutshell, if administrators change, or an ornery student makes accusations, or a teacher goes on medical leave, or because of experience the school can hire someone less expensive - fired. The list is quite extensive and history backs up the tenure side of things. I'm sure you haven't thought this through completely, or researched it, is all.

    As an aside - it'd be nice if the media started reporting on the taxpayer costs of these clearly unconstitutional moves our government makes, and the law firms (and connections) that are unnecessarily getting our taxpayer money. Seems like the McCrory administration likes to hire "outside council" for a lot of clearly bad legislation.