Campbell Brown’s PEJ Files Another Lawsuit– Now in New Jersey
On November 01, 2016, Campbell Brown’s Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ) filed its third lawsuit in pursuit of teacher tenure laws, this time in New Jersey.
In short, PEJ’s third lawsuit tries to paint New Jersey’s “last in, first out” (LIFO) teacher tenure policy as unconstitutional based on the New Jersey constitution’s education terminology of the legislature’s charge to provide “for the maintenance and support of a through and efficient system of free public schools for all children of the state.”
However, it seems that the lawsuit does not make its case; even though the suit takes issue with the LIFO policy for not considering the results of teacher evaluation when reductions in force are in order, the legislature’s LIFO policy could still be regarded in court as “thorough and efficient.”
The PEJ suit argues that Newark tries to dodge the legislature’s LIFO reduction-in-force requirement by not laying off teachers rated ineffective and instead putting such teachers into a pool of employees that take other jobs (including clerical and paraprofessional positions). The suit continues by noting that such a practice is expensive and still requires Newark schools to rehire such “ineffective” teachers when positions open up as opposed to being able to hire new, out-of-district, “effective” teachers instead.
Though the lawsuit touches on the declining enrollment in Newark’s traditional public schools, it does not discuss a major cause: Newark is a state-run district, and as such, the state (not parents) has the authority to authorize new charter schools– and with the opening of more charters, more state funding exits Newark’s traditional public schools.
Newark appealed to the state to try to make layoffs using teacher evaluation ratings as the principal criteria; however, such would introduce the convenience of laying off teachers with low ratings and skirting due process even as the teacher evaluation process itself is arguably imprecise.
Thus, Newark is left to try to stay afloat, and rather than reduce force, it resorts to “educators without placement” (EWP). Let’s be clear, though: The state is working against its own interest by opening more charter schools and zapping funding that would otherwise stay with state-run Newark schools.
The PEJ suit also maintains
these districts, of which Newark is one, [have] this fundamental right to a thorough and efficient education [that] requires the State to provide an education that ‘exceeds that needed by students in more affluent districts,” according to the New Jersey Supreme Court.
Indeed, New Jersey has a 35-year, litigious saga over adequately funding its urban schools via the Abbott lawsuits (Read the history here). It seems that the State of New Jersey has tried its hardest to not adequately fund the School Funding reform Act (SFRA). However, adequately funding Newark would make any need for reduction in force moot and further reduce the attractiveness of state-approved charter schools as a viable escape from increasingly-underfunded Newark.
The PEJ lawsuit tries to separate funding from teacher effectiveness:
Ensuring adequate funding to these districts is essential, but funding alone is not sufficient to provide a thorough and efficient education to these students. They need effective teachers.
However, the reality is that an “effective” teacher can indeed “become ineffective” if, for example, he or she has fewer resources available due to budget cuts, or has increased class sizes as a result.
I know that my own effectiveness in the classroom would be reduced if I lacked teaching materials or if my classes were each increased by even a few students who required more of my individualized attention.
What PEJ wants in its suit is for New Jersey’s LIFO- reduction-in-force law to not apply to districts like Newark. According to PEJ, reductions in force should happen to those rated ineffective by a teacher rating system that PEJ admits is “updated from time to time”– which means that the rating of “effective” is not static, and it is possible under one “update” to be “effective” and under another, to be “ineffective.”
However, based on the results of another PEJ lawsuit on teacher tenure in Minnesota, it seems that the New Jersey court could tell PEJ that the decision to ditch LIFO in favor of ratings-based reduction-in-force policy is a legislative decision, not a judicial one.
The PEJ argument for unfairness to Newark students for so many “ineffective” teachers being concentrated there bypasses the reality that teachers decide where they teach, not the legislature and not the courts. Furthermore, teachers rated “ineffective” do not get to keep their jobs forever, just for two years if the teacher does not receive an improved rating.
Of course, there is also the question of how many “effective” teachers in Newark somehow “become ineffective” during their time in Newark– and close examination of why that happens.
But PEJ isn’t asking for this examination, nor is it asking the Mercer County Superior Court to require the State of New Jersey to adequately fund Newark schools despite the state’s decision to open the very charters that make Newark schools fiscally unsound.
That’s just not Campbell Brown’s style. She prefers to go after the teachers.
Too many weaknesses in this PEJ brief for me to believe this one will fly.
And when it goes south, PEJ will likely file its next lets-drum-up-some locals-to-put-a-face-on-our-Astroturf lawsuit in yet another state.