North Carolina’s public schools will be the topic in two capital city courtrooms Thursday.
As Judge Howard Manning grills state officials in Wake County Superior Court about their constitutional obligation to provide all children with a quality education, the N.C. Appeals Court will hear arguments over a 2013 legislative amendment that brought an end to so-called “career status,” or teacher tenure.
Tenure allows public school teachers due-process hearings but does not prevent low-performing teachers from being fired. As many as 57,000 of 95,000 teachers have tenure, according to the N.C. Association of Educators. Since 1971, the employment protection has been granted to North Carolina teachers who passed a 4-year probationary period.
But in 2013, when Republicans first gained control of both General Assembly houses and the N.C. governor’s office, the lawmakers adopted a budget plan that would have phased out tenure by 2018.
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Six teachers and the Association of Educators sued, and last year Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that taking tenure from teachers was an unconstitutional taking of property rights.
The decision did not apply to teachers who had not earned tenure. Supporters of phasing out tenure called the ruling “judicial activism.”
Hobgood said retroactively abolishing tenure violated the contract clause in the U.S. Constitution and amounted “to an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract,” a violation of the state constitution.
A three-judge appeals court panel will hear arguments Thursday. Attorneys for the educators will argue that Hobgood’s ruling was right for those who have tenure but wrong for those who joined school systems thinking the employment protection would be an option in four years.
Attorneys for the state will argue that Hobgood made a mistake in ruling that retroactively abolishing tenure was a taking of property.