Teacher tenure should not be tampered with

A new proposal would likely undermine local autonomy and fail to address education needs.

Ronald Dixon

In a neoliberal economy where austerity is the norm and public investments are ridiculed, vital public-sector workers often bear the brunt of attacks by Congress members and other lawmakers across the country. The group that best epitomizes this phenomenon is teachers.

Public educators are often accused of failing students while retaining their jobs, despite their allegedly poor performances. By and large, teachers across Minnesota have seen school district budget cuts and pay reductions that call into question how much society values them.

Recently, Sen. Terri Bonoff, DFL-Minnetonka, and Rep. Jenifer Loon, R-Eden Prairie, introduced legislation that would end protections for tenured educators.

Essentially, the goal is to remove the “last in, first out” policy that takes into consideration teacher tenure when making layoff decisions. As the second bill introduced in the Republican-controlled House, it is considered to be a major Republican priority. This plan, which is expected to be heard on the House floor Wednesday, should not pass.

First, the cost necessary for implementing this law is approximately $895,000 over the next two years, primarily because of changes in scrutiny and review practices by the state.

I am sure school districts could think of a myriad of ways to better spend nearly $1 million than to have it go toward unproductive, messy bureaucracy. 

Moreover, the bill would strip away the rights of local school districts to craft unique policies that fit the needs and interests of their jurisdictions. This would also take away the right for teachers to collectively bargain layoff policies. Case in point, a recent analysis by Education Minnesota, the state’s largest teachers union, found that 40 percent of school districts already take various factors besides teacher seniority into consideration before laying off educators.

If local school districts believe that changes are necessary, they should engage with the teachers, unions, parents and students whom their policies directly impact.

When the state forces smaller jurisdictions to change their layoff policies, it hinders the executive powers of school districts that are best prepared to tackle issues unique to their neighborhoods. It also hinders the teachers’ collective bargaining rights, as layoff decisions are typically made via negotiations between districts and teachers unions.

Finally, we should consider what this bill would actually fix. Would it emphasize firing teachers instead of investing in under-funded schools, closing our achievement gap and addressing the urgent technological needs of rural schools across the state? Would it actually assist teachers and aid students?

Ultimately, this proposal should not pass. It wastes money, hinders local autonomy and does nothing to solve Minnesota’s pressing educational needs.