Minnesota's teacher tenure under fire in lawsuit

- Four Minnesota families backed by Partnership for Educational Justice and Students for Education Reform Minnesota filed a lawsuit challenging that state’s teacher tenure and state “last in, first out laws” governing who’s laid off during budget cuts.

Minnesota allows teachers job protections after three years, and the lawsuit filed in Ramsey County District Court says the laws “deprive certain students of their fundamental right to a uniform and thorough education” and protect veteran teachers from layoffs, even if it means a better teacher loses his or her job because of fewer years logged in the classroom.

The lawsuit claims not only are bad teachers are protected, but in doing that the laws are perpetuating opportunity gaps and preventing efforts to improve the state's public school system.

“The most ineffective teachers are often teaching in what are already the lowest performing schools serving children who have the most need, who also happen to be of the lowest income,” Jesse Stewart, the families’ attorney, said.

But the state teacher's union, Education Minnesota says all of this focuses on the wrong issue.  The union says there is a teacher shortage and the real effort should be put into attracting and keeping quality educators. 

“We are seeing a lot of people that are leaving teaching and leaving our most challenging schools, for lack of resources, lack of support, workload, lack of respect,” Denise Specht, the president of Education Minnesota, said.

Tiffini Forslund, the lead plaintiff in the case, first took her concerns to the state legislature with a bill in 2012 that would have based teacher layoffs more on performance, but Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the measure. Now, the plaintiffs say it's time for the next step.

“We've tried that for long, we've gotten beaten up, and we’re tired,” Latasha Gandy, a member of Students for Education Reform Minnesota, said. “So now it's time to take it to the courts.the judge will make them have to change these laws.”

Education commissioner Brenda Casselius said today, "We are committed to ensuring every student has a dedicated and competent teacher. And she went on to say we have rigorous laws that protect due process for teachers...and that also provide for the removal of teachers" when necessary.

As for the teachers’ union, representatives said today they didn’t know yet if it would intervene in the lawsuit.
Similar lawsuits in California and New York were challenged by teachers unions and other groups that argue job protections don’t lead to disproportionate quality of education.


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