Kansas teachers keeping close watch on North Carolina

In a case that is resonating with many teachers in Kansas, a judge in North Carolina last week struck down that state’s new law that does away with traditional teacher tenure.

As reported by the Raleigh News & Observer, Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled that the law, enacted last year, “amounts to an unconstitutional taking of plaintiffs’ property rights in their existing contract.”

The North Carolina law is somewhat different than the one passed in Kansas this year, which simply eliminates tenure rights altogether for K-12 teachers. In the Tarheel State, state lawmakers replaced traditional tenure with a new system in which districts could offer four-year contracts to their top-performing teachers, but only one or two year contracts to all the others.

Just exactly how teachers were to be rated as top performers wasn’t specified in the law, but it did limit that category to no more than 25 percent of a district’s teachers.

Other states, including Louisiana and South Dakota, have taken action in recent years to limit or eliminate tenure rights, a term that generally refers to protection from summary dismissal once a teacher has been on the job for a minimum length of time.

In Kansas, teachers who’d been on the job at least three years were entitled to a due process hearing before they could be fired or not renewed for the following year. In North Carolina, the minimum time on the job was five years.

The North Carolina court, however, said that currently tenured teachers have a property right interest in that element of their contract, and the state’s action eliminating tenure amounted to a “taking” of that property right.

That’s essentially the same argument that officials from the Kansas National Education Association have been making since Gov. Sam Brownback signed the bill into law. (It was an amendment added late in the legislative process to a school funding bill that was meant to address a recent Kansas Supreme Court ruling.) But KNEA officials also have said they probably cannot file a suit in court until a tenured teacher is actually dismissed.

Meanwhile, teachers in the Lawrence school district are hoping to negotiate due process rights into their master contract. The district and local teachers union earlier had put their contract talks on hold pending the final outcome of the 2014 legislative session. The two sides met briefly May 5, when negotiators for the teachers asked to put the current statutory language about due process into their contract. The two sides were scheduled to meet again at 5 p.m. tonight.

Note: This story corrects an earlier version to reflect that the a negotiation meeting was held May 5.