By Senator Joe Kyrillos
A JUNE 10 California court ruling that teacher tenure laws are unconstitutional and violate students’ rights to quality education signals the need for further education reforms in New Jersey and other states across the country.
New Jersey was the first state to pass tenure legislation more than 100 years ago, and despite bipartisan reforms enacted two years ago, many antiquated state education laws still persist.
In 2012, the Legislature and Governor Christie compromised to pass a bipartisan reform law, addressing teacher tenure and the teacher dismissal process. Although it was a good first step, that effort came up short because public teachers’ unions had enough influence over the Legislature to preserve policies such as “last-in, first-out.”
LIFO forces schools to ignore educator effectiveness and lay off high-performing, bright educators, instead of ineffective, more senior ones.
As Judge Rolf Treu ruled in the California case, supporting LIFO is akin to defending “the proposition that the state has a compelling interest in the de facto separation of students from competent teachers, and a like interest in the de facto retention of incompetent ones.”
He duly concluded: “The logic of this position is unfathomable and therefore constitutionally unsupportable.”
Treu’s landmark ruling for education reform offers New Jersey a substantial legal perspective and momentum to finish the job on common-sense education reform for New Jersey students, families and property taxpayers. I am confident that Treu’s ruling solidifies what must be and what can be done to improve education in New Jersey and across America.
To get the job done in the Garden State, I reintroduced on Thursday “The School Children First Act” (Senate Bill 2221). I am also seeking the support of the advocacy group Students Matter, one of the prevailing plaintiffs in the California case.
This Act, which I first put forth in August 2012, allows public school districts to best serve their students and communities by ensuring only the best teachers, administrators and staff members are the ones educating and nurturing our next generation.
This moderate legislation does not outright eliminate tenure, and it makes sure the many great teachers in our state are rewarded and that many promising educators are given a shot, as waste could be cut from less pro-student places in public education budgets.
Eliminating dismissal formula
Specifically, this bill eliminates LIFO, to allow public school leaders to hire and retain the best teachers. It also requires school districts to adopt merit-based compensation schedules, whereby public school employees are paid based on their contributions to school children and professional growth. Further, it facilitates consolidation and shared services among New Jersey’s more than 600 public school districts by clearing obstacles that stand in the way of efficiency and property tax relief.
This Act would also grant needed authority to school principals to allow them to assign teachers to classrooms where they will be effective. Educators should not be left in positions to fail, and for our children to receive the best education possible, we must let the professionals running schools — not special political interests — determine where teachers will be at their best.
I’ve seen first-hand that this Legislature can come together to put the people’s needs ahead of politics.
We must do so again to pass “The School Children First Act” to support and replicate successful schools around the state, and, bottom line, to make sure all New Jersey students graduate high school on time, college or career ready. We absolutely must get this done to ensure the brightest possible future for our children and state.