New York Students Join Constitutional Challenge to Teacher Tenure Rules

As previously covered here, last month a California court ruled that California teacher tenure rules were unconstitutional under the state constitution.

New York students have followed with a similar suit regarding teacher tenure in New York:

Eleven New York Public School students filed a class action lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State Thursday, claiming teacher tenure laws violated their State constitutional rights to a "sound basic education."
. . .
The lawsuit declares New York Education law, Section 3020a and its implementation as unconstitutional. Plaintiffs claim that employment as an educator in New York State is an earned privilege and cannot be a life-long right for incompetent teachers; the process for due process protections are onerous and create disparate costs for lower-income and non-white populations; and if a teacher's performance is below minimum standard guaranteed by the New York State constitution, they should not able to retain their employment during a downsizing period based on their seniority. (link)

A press release announcing the suit notes the abysmal status of student performance in New York schools:

"Across New York State, about 70 percent of students do not read, write and do math at grade level.  This is a crisis of epic proportions. New York City schools in mostly Black and Latino neighborhoods are staffed with the highest concentration of Unsatisfactory-Rated teachers.  Yet, every attempt to hold teachers accountable for educating our children is blocked.  Bad laws need to go. It is time to reform the law and put our children's interests.  Every child must receive equal access to a high-quality education." (link)

It looks like for the near future this is the battle ground on which teacher tenure will be preserved or dismantled across the country.

Teacher Employee Rights and Student Equal Protection Rights Collide: California Teacher Tenure Laws Ruled Unconstitutional

At one point quoting Brown v. Board of Education, a California state court judge found that California's teacher tenure rules violated the state constitutional right to education and the equal protection rights of minority and/or poor students.

"LOS ANGELES — A Los Angeles Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday that teacher tenure laws deprive students of their constitutional right to an education, a decision that hands teachers’ unions a major defeat in a landmark case that overturns several California laws that govern the way teachers are hired and fired.

'Substantial evidence presented makes it clear to this court that the challenged statutes disproportionately affect poor and/or minority students,”'Judge Rolf M. Treu wrote in the ruling. 'The evidence is compelling. Indeed, it shocks the conscience.”'

The ruling, which declared the laws governing how teachers are hired and fired in California to be unconstitutional, is likely to set off a slew of legal fights here and in other states, where many education reform advocates are eager to change similar laws. 


The plaintiffs argued that California’s current laws made it impossible to get rid of low-performing and incompetent teachers, who were disproportionately assigned to schools filled with poor students. The result, they insisted, amounted to a violation of students’ constitutional rights to an education."  (link)

The decision cites a study that calculates the cost of a single year of teaching by a "grossly ineffective" teacher was $1.4 million in students' lifetime earnings per classroom.  Another cited study calculates there are between 2,750 and 8,250 "grossly ineffective"  teachers in California classrooms.

Importantly, many other states, including New York, also have a state constitutional right to education that will likely provide a basis for similar challenges to teacher tenure rules.