RALEIGH (WTVD) -- A judge Friday struck down North Carolina's controversial teacher tenure law, saying it is unconstitutional.
It's the first ruling in a legal battle over whether public school teachers can keep job protections they've had for generations.
Superior Court Judge Robert Hobgood ruled in a lawsuit challenging a state law that orders each school district to give the best 25 percent of its teachers four-year contracts. The teachers would get pay raises totaling $5,000 but lose their tenure rights.
"Unconstitutional with respect to retroactive abolishment of vested career rights - the General Assembly's actions clearly violate the contract clause of the United States Constitution," said Hobgood from the bench Friday.
For more than 40 years, North Carolina law has said veteran teachers cannot be fired or demoted except for reasons that include poor performance, immorality and insubordination. Teachers earning career status after at least four years in a school district also have the right to a hearing where they can challenge their firing or demotion.
Last summer, Republican lawmakers voted to phase out those protections, arguing it will promote sharper classroom performance.
Teachers who haven't worked the four years needed to qualify for career status are being offered one-year contracts. Veteran teachers lose their tenure protections in 2018.
Lawyers representing the North Carolina Association of Educators and a half-dozen teachers argued eliminating career status wasn't necessary to remove problem teachers.
The NCAE said preserving the rights of teachers who already have tenure was a necessity, but it doesn't think the fight is over yet.
"Madness, utter madness and I think at some point we need to get all parties at the table to have some conversation to see what we really want from public schools in North Carolina. You are going to see this situation continue to arise where we're going to have to come to court and it's a shame we have to do that but it's the reality we live in." offered NCAE President Rodney Ellis.
The state attorney said earlier this week that lawmakers can end tenure protections if they think it will improve public schools.
A Superior Court judge ruled last week that the Guilford County and Durham school boards do not have to issue new teacher contracts to a selected elite 25 percent of educators. The order means other state school boards must still identify teachers for the new contracts and issue those contracts by June 30, according to state law.
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