Court rightly puts hold on law that would end teacher tenure

April 24, 2014 

Republicans from the North Carolina General Assembly are conducting a deceptive campaign against public school teachers. They high-handedly announced when they passed a law ending teacher tenure that they were going to reward the state’s best educators by giving the top 25 percent of teachers four-year contracts and $500 bonuses.

Did they wink at each other when they did it? Because they should have. Republicans were angry with the N.C. Association of Educators because some leaders and members criticized the GOP assault on public schools and their funding. So the leaders cooked up a bitter brew, indeed: no tenure for teachers by 2018. And they tried to lure teachers into a devil’s bargain, saying those who gave up their tenure in advance of that date would become eligible for $500 raises and four-year contracts.

Teachers aren’t buying it, and neither are school systems, which are overwhelmingly opposed to this law. Responding to a challenge, a Superior Court judge has issued a ruling out of Greensboro that puts a halt to the law, at least for Guilford and Durham counties, which brought the suit. The systems are challenging the constitutionality of the measure.

Simply payback

Republican leaders say this ruling is terrible and denying worthy teachers a raise. What it’s denying is the GOP a chance to deliver payback to some of its critics among public school teachers.

Legislators say school systems can pick the top 25 percent of teachers and “reward” them with paltry additional pay if they surrender tenure. Like many laws passed since the Republican takeover, this one was clumsy and ill-defined, and even now some lawmakers are talking about revising it.

Doing nothing about tenure in the first place would have been the best choice.

School systems rightly say that they can’t possibly pick out the top 25 percent in a fair way and that the choices would hurt the morale of other teachers, who might be doing just as good a job. A further decline in morale, considering that the state’s average teacher pay ranks 46th nationally, would erode the state’s ability to hire teachers who might be able to make more money in neighboring states.

Not really ‘tenure’

And the use of the term “tenure” to apply to North Carolina teachers is confusing. The only real guarantee veteran teachers get is that, if they are fired, they are entitled to a hearing. That’s hardly the absolute job security “tenure” implies, and there are a number of reasons that school systems can dismiss teachers if they wish.

An attorney with the NCAE rightly believes the ruling for Guilford and Durham school boards should apply statewide because the law covers the entire state. Wake County’s school board didn’t join the suit, but it did pass a resolution urging state lawmakers to rescind the law.

The courts already have frozen another ideological slap at public schools, the GOP’s voucher program that tried to provide some parents with public funds to pay their children’s private school tuition. Although that measure was limited to low-income families, it likely would have been the first step in a much larger voucher program from Republicans.

Tenure is not what Republicans say it is, and the so-called rewards program for top teachers is not what they say it is. If GOP leaders won’t turn the tide on their attempts to diminish public schools and the teachers who do the noble work in their classrooms, let’s hope the courts continue to do it for them.

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