Minnesota parents continue argument that unions protect bad teachers
ST. PAUL — Attorneys for parents challenging Minnesota teachers union laws asked an appeals court panel Wednesday, June 28, to overturn a lower court's decision to dismiss their case.
St. Paul mother Roxanne Draughn and three other parents from across the Twin Cities filed a lawsuit in April 2016 claiming that teacher tenure and other union rules protect bad teachers and worsen the academic achievement gap.
Last fall, a Ramsey County District Court judge dismissed their case, ruling that the plaintiffs' lawsuit did not have enough evidence to show the union rules contributed to the achievement gap between poor and minority students and their peers. The judge also ruled that the issues raised in the case should be addressed by the state Legislature, not through the courts.
Last month, state lawmakers agreed to a minor change that will require districts and union leaders to negotiate local policies governing teacher layoffs by 2019. The change also removes the default policy now in state law that focuses on teacher seniority, commonly called "Last In, First Out," or LIFO.
The parents' lawsuit is supported by the Partnership for Educational Justice and the Minnesota chapter of Students for Education Reform. A similar case failed in California, and cases in New York and New Jersey are being appealed.
In their appeal filed in March, attorneys for the Twin Cities parents argued that state standards requiring students to have effective teachers allow the court to decide whether teacher union rules violate some students' constitutional right to a quality education.
State leaders have rejected that argument, saying there are already systems in place to evaluate teachers, help them improve and remove those who do not. They've also agreed that the Legislature should make changes to teacher union rules.
The appeals court panel is expected to issue a decision within 90 days.
Until last month, Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton opposed changes to teachers union rules. He vetoed a 2012 bill, passed by a Republican-led legislature, that would have eliminated seniority-based layoffs.
Yet the education budget Dayton signed in May requires districts and their teachers unions to negotiate local layoff policies that can include measures other than seniority. State law previously allowed districts to consider other factors, and many did, but seniority still played a large role in layoff decisions.
The parents' lawsuit isn't the only legal challenge related to the achievement gap. Later this year, the state Supreme Court is expected to hear an appeal of the dismissal of a class-action lawsuit that alleges that state rules enable school segregation.
Christopher Magan can be reached at 651-228-5557 and firstname.lastname@example.org, or on Twitter at @chris_magan.