Amen. That’s what the N.C. Court of Appeals had to say about an earlier ruling from Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood that Republican legislators were out of bounds in 2013 when they approved a phase-out that would have abolished teacher tenure in North Carolina by 2018.
Hobgood said in his ruling in a suit filed by teachers that a retroactive abolition of tenure violated the United States Constitution’s contract clause and was “an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract.”
On Tuesday, a panel of the state Court of Appeals agreed, thus inflicting another setback for GOP lawmakers who have undercut traditional public education by encouraging an increase in charter schools and even vouchers that allow some parents to receive public funds to send their kids to private schools.
Hobgood, by the way, is also the judge who ruled the voucher program unconstitutional because it sends public funds to private schools.
The tenure issue is one that Republicans put into play in part because the state teachers’ association has been critical of some GOP policies on public education. And some Republican lawmakers cast “teacher tenure” as some sort of feathery nest that allows bad teachers to hang on to their jobs forever.
But the “tenure” term really isn’t accurate when it comes to a reasonable benefit that North Carolina’s underpaid and overworked teachers have.
For one thing, the security afforded those veteran teachers who have earned this short-handed version of tenure, which more accurately is called “career status,” isn’t lifetime job security or even comparable to the benefits a college professor has on achieving tenure.
Rather, career status means that if a teacher is to be fired, he or she has the right to a hearing. It’s a benefit granted to teachers who complete their four-year probationary period in good standing.
What career status doesn’t mean, though it’s what some legislators would like people to think it means, is absolute protection from dismissal. Bad teachers still can be fired. And everyone in the public school system, in addition to any lawmakers who really want the straight facts, knows it.
The attempt to take away career status has been a waste of time, a punitive act on the part of Republican lawmakers who seem to have public education in their bull’s-eye, even though public schools remain the choice for the vast majority of North Carolina families.
So now a higher court has said Hobgood was right.
Appeals Court Judge Linda Stephens called career status “a fundamental part of the bargain” that teachers “accepted when they decided to defer the pursuit of potentially more lucrative professions, as well as the opportunity to work in states that offer better financial compensation to members of their own profession, in order to accept employment in our public schools.”
That’s a firm and stern statement from a respected judge that could be interpreted as suggesting that North Carolina is getting a better deal than it deserves from its teachers. Lawmakers ought to be grateful, not critical, of these public educators.
Though teacher salaries, particularly for beginning teachers, have improved, North Carolina still lags near the bottom of national rankings in teacher pay. And beyond better pay, teachers have long sought and have long deserved more respect for what they do. The Republicans in the legislature have given them anything but, and should that attitude continue to dominate, the state will be looking for ways to fill what surely is coming, a teacher shortage of painful proportion.
Instead, let us respect and support the good teachers, and that’s most of them, who toil in the state’s classrooms because they love helping young people expand their horizons. They are due the benefits they have, and then some.