One of the first things North Carolina Republicans did after taking full control of state government was to pass a law that would have effectively ended tenure for the state's public school teachers. But yesterday, a judge threw it out after finding it violated both the federal and state constitutions.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ordered a permanent injunction against the implementation of the law that ends career status, known as teacher tenure. The judge’s decision applies statewide to teachers who already have tenure, but not to those who haven’t yet earned it.Since 1971, all North Carolina teachers have been initially hired on a probationary basis. After four years, they gain tenure--which among other things gives teachers the right to a hearing before being fired. The GOP claimed that ending tenure was necessary to make it easier to get rid of bad teachers, citing a 2012-13 study that showed only 17 teachers statewide had been fired. What they didn't tell us, though, was that the very same study found 87 teachers had resigned rather than face certain termination, and another 294 had resigned for unknown reasons.
Retroactively abolishing tenure for teachers, Hobgood said, violates the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution and “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract,” which violates the state constitution.
Hobgood said the legislature’s action harmed teachers’ contracts and “was not reasonable and necessary to serve an important public purpose.”
The law, passed last year, had directed school districts to offer the top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts and $500 to relinquish their tenure status. The judge’s order halts the implementation of that provision, which he said had “no discernible, workable standards” to guide local boards and superintendents.
Needless to say, NCAE president Rodney Ellis was overjoyed by this ruling. He explained that when the General Assembly passed this law, it forgot that tenure allows teachers to focus on teaching.
“It’s a means for protecting teachers from unfair dismissals,” Ellis said of career status. “It’s a means by which we can avoid school politics impacting employment in our schools for teachers ... It does not guarantee you a right to a job for life. But instead, it just awards you an opportunity to actually go through a process, a fair hearing process, before you’re dismissed.”NAE president Dennis Van Roekel pointed out that North Carolina has a hard enough time attracting teachers willing to work for the fourth-lowest salary in the nation, and this law would have made it even more difficult to attract quality teachers.
A week earlier, another judge issued a preliminary injunction exempting schools in Greensboro and Durham from the law. However, in siding with six teachers and the North Carolina Association of Educators who sued to throw out the law, Hobgood ensured that all the state's teachers will keep the rights they have once they gain tenure.
State senate pro tem Phil Berger issued an apoplectic statement claiming that Hobgood had engaged in "a classic case of judicial activism," and hinted that he wants the ruling appealed. No word on whether attorney general Roy Cooper will oblige.