Newark, N.J., parents sue state over seniority protection for teachers

Newark, N.J., parents sue state over seniority protection for teachers

Suit contends that "last in, first out" layoffs based on teachers' seniority violate students' right to an education.

Six parents in Newark, N.J., have sued the state to challenge a law that gives public school teachers with seniority greater protection from layoffs.

The lawsuit, brought by Partnership for Educational Justice, an education advocacy group, contends that New Jersey's “last in, first out” teacher layoff statute violates students’ right to an education by unjustly requiring school districts to ignore teacher quality in determining reductions in force and instead retain ineffective teachers.

The Partnership says in a news release that the law forces school system to lay off effective teachers "despite substantial research establishing that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning."

The lawsuit also seeks to challenge the state's efforts to reopen school finance litigation, known as Abbott v. Burke. Under that case, New Jersey is required to provide extra education funding to 31 of New Jersey's poorest school districts, including Newark. The state wants to end that requirement.

In 2014, the Partnership asserts, Newark Public Schools looked at a hypothetical teacher layoff scenario. Under the "last in, first out" seniority system, 75 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated effective or highly effective, and only 4 percent of the teachers laid off would have been rated ineffective. Overall in the same year, about 15 percent of Newark teachers were rated less than effective.

Since at least 2012, the lawsuit maintains, the Newark district has avoided laying off effective teachers by paying millions of dollars per year to cover the salaries of ineffective teachers with seniority even when no school would agree to their placement in the school.

To abide by the seniority system, the lawsuit states, "the district must either lay off effective teachers and retain ineffective teachers, or it must bear the heavy burden of keeping ineffective teachers on staff (or engage in the time-consuming and expensive proceedings to terminate ineffective, tenured teachers on a case-by-case basis) rather than lose the effective teachers they have."

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