FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2016
Contact: Melody Meyer, firstname.lastname@example.org or 646.770.7061
NEWARK PARENTS FILE SUIT CHALLENGING “LAST IN, FIRST OUT” TEACHER LAYOFF STATUTE
On behalf of their children, parents assert that New Jersey’s quality-blind teacher layoff law violates students’ constitutional right to an education
Trenton, NJ – Today, six parents from Newark, supported by Partnership for Educational Justice, filed HG v. Harrington, challenging the constitutionality of the state’s “last in, first out” (LIFO) quality-blind teacher layoff statute. Under this law, school districts facing budget reductions are required to lay off teachers in reverse-seniority order, based only on the date when they started teaching in the district. The parents’ lawsuit, filed in Mercer County Superior Court, asserts that New Jersey’s LIFO law violates students’ right to an education by unjustly requiring school districts to ignore teacher quality and retain ineffective teachers while laying off effective teachers, despite substantial research establishing that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning.
In the HG v. Harrington complaint, the plaintiff parents also argue against a recent filing from the New Jersey State Commissioner of Education to the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Commissioner’s filing, submitted by the State’s Attorney General, requests that the Supreme Court re-open a decades-old school funding litigation, Abbott v. Burke, and remove the long-standing requirement for the State to provide extra education funding to 31 of the state’s poorest school districts, including Newark. The parents oppose this request, citing reports that Newark stands to lose almost 69 percent of its state education funding, which would throw their children’s schools into fiscal crisis. The State’s Supreme Court filing also includes a constitutional challenge to LIFO, requesting that the Education Commissioner be allowed to waive the LIFO requirements in Newark and similar districts. The HG v. Harrington plaintiff families assert that the courts should declare LIFO unconstitutional and render it unenforceable in Newark and similar districts, and they oppose a solution that leaves its enforcement to the discretion of a political appointee.
“For far too long, parents have been denied a seat at the table when critical decisions are made about our children’s education,” said Tanisha Garner, mother of two Newark Public School students and plaintiff in HG v. Harrington. “Especially as our schools face severe budget cuts, our children deserve the best teachers possible, and the ‘last in, first out’ teacher layoff law stands in the way of this. It’s time to stand up to the elected officials who are playing politics with our children’s futures.”
In 2014, to better understand the effect that LIFO layoffs would have on Newark’s overall teacher quality, Newark Public Schools ran the numbers on a hypothetical teacher layoff scenario. Under the quality-blind LIFO layoff mandate, 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, approximately 15 percent of Newark teachers were rated less than effective.
Research studies have consistently established that teacher quality is the most important in-school factor affecting student learning. Students with high-quality, effective teachers are more likely to graduate from high school and attend college, more likely to have good jobs and higher lifetime earnings, and they are less likely to become teenage parents.
Since at least 2012, the Newark Public School district has only avoided laying off effective teachers by paying millions of dollars per year to cover the salaries of ineffective – but more senior – teachers even when no school would agree to their placement in the school. This costly work-around has diverted valuable resources from educational programming and other expenses that could improve the education of Newark students.
“Failed by politics for too long, these determined parents refuse to quietly sit by while their schools face dramatic budget cuts and the loss of great teachers because of New Jersey’s unjust teacher layoff law,” said Ralia Polechronis, Executive Director at Partnership for Educational Justice. “No one will stand up for children like their parents, and we’re excited to support their fight before the courts to ensure that Newark students and others like them receive the quality education to which they are entitled.”
“By forcing school districts like Newark to either lay off effective teachers while keeping ineffective ones, or pay for costly and elaborate measures to avoid losing good teachers, New Jersey’s teacher layoff law results in a clear violation of the state constitutional promise to provide a ‘thorough and efficient’ public education to every child,” said Kent Yalowitz, Partner at Arnold & Porter, the lead firm representing the plaintiff families.
“We are proud to represent the brave parents challenging a broken law that clearly works against students’ best interests,” said Kathleen Reilly, Associate at Arnold & Porter.
A full copy of the HG v. Harrington complaint is available at edjustice.org/projectsnj/.
About Partnership for Educational Justice (PEJ)
Founded by award-winning journalist Campbell Brown, Partnership for Educational Justice is a nonprofit organization pursuing impact litigation that empowers families and communities to advocate for great public schools through the courts. In addition to the litigation launched in New Jersey today, PEJ is currently working with parents and students in New York and Minnesota in support of legal challenges to unjust teacher employment statutes in those states.