Challenges to education reforms may hit court in February

Jan. 12, 2014 @ 01:07 PM

The lawsuit has been filed, and the North Carolina Association of Educators could start litigation with the state for its “unconstitutional education legislation” as soon as next month.
Educators hope that the two lawsuits against the state for the voucher program and the removal of tenure will get people talking again about how to best support public schools.
How’d they get to this point?
Educators, along with other activists, protested the N.C. Legislature this summer because of education bills it was passing and budget cuts. The legislature added the two disputed policies in the 2013-2014 budget bill.
Public schools have lost more than $43 million in state funding in the last five years. With this year’s budget, North Carolina lawmakers also eliminated tenure, eliminated funds for teacher assistants and got rid of master’s pay for teachers who earned their master’s degrees. Teachers also didn’t receive a raise for the third year.
The first suit, filed Dec. 11, is about the Opportunity Scholarship Program, or vouchers, that will give up to $4,200 for low-income children to attend private schools starting next fall. The lawsuit claims that providing public taxpayer money to fund private education violates the section of the state constitution that says a state fund “shall be faithfully appropriated and used exclusively for establishing and maintaining a uniform system of free public schools.”
The state has filed to have this lawsuit dismissed, and there likely will be court action in February.
A week later, the NCAE filed a second lawsuit against the state over the repeal of career status and due process rights.
That suit alleges that the legislature’s Career Status Repeal violates the federal and state constitutions by eliminating basic due process rights.
“Career status gives teachers the right to know why they are being disciplined or fired, and the right to a hearing,” the suit reads. “This law unconstitutionally takes away those rights from veteran teachers who have earned career status and from new teachers who have invested in a career with the understanding that they could earn those rights.”
The state has 30 days from the file date ( Dec. 17) to reply to the suit against the Career Status Repeal.
Supporters of the voucher program argue that Opportunity Scholarships will create more educational options for the students who don’t succeed at traditional public schools, mainly students that come from low-income families.
“The Opportunity Scholarship Program is not meant to supplant our traditional public school system, but was enacted to supplement our traditional public system,” said Darrell Allison, president of Parents for Educational Freedom of North Carolina.
Supporters of the Career Status Repeal argue that no job is guaranteed for life and teachers should be no different. Some also argue that allowing tenure makes teachers complacent and noncompetitive, which diminishes their effectiveness.
Now that the suits are filed, what happens?
Ann McColl, general counsel for the North Carolina Association of Educators, said for now, the voucher program will continue as planned and career status is still repealed.
“Ideally, both cases will be handled expeditiously,” she said. “For both cases, time matters, because parents and students are making decisions.”
Voucher registration is supposed to begin next month. McColl said no matter what happens, she hopes these cases restart conversations.
“People want to talk more about how we can make sure public schools are supported,” she said. “People want to talk about how to make sure our students are getting great teachers. These are very important conversations to have.”
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
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