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Lawsuit puts Minnesota at center of debate over teacher tenure

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Minnesota's law that protects the jobs of schoolteachers with seniority is being challenged in court. That makes the state one of three where critics of the teacher tenure system have filed lawsuits.

The suit filed in St. Paul on Thursday also takes aim at the system under which the most recently hired teachers are the first to lose their jobs when there are cutbacks.

Four women who are the mothers of schoolchildren in Duluth, St. Paul, and Minneapolis filed the lawsuit with support from two educational reform groups.

They argue that Minnesota's Teacher Tenure Act hurts students by keeping ineffective teachers in the classroom. They also say it's students from low-income and minority families who are most likely to suffer from this, fueling the achievement gap between races that is especially stark in Minnesota, KSTP reports.

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Unions have been strong supporters of the tenure system, arguing it protects teachers from being unfairly fired for subjective or biased reasons and ensures due process.

Minnesota's tenure system gives protections to teachers with at least three years in the classroom. Tenured teachers can be removed, though, if a lengthy hearing process is followed.

Challenges in two other states

Minnesota joins California and New York as states where critics of teacher tenure have filed lawsuits.

The New York case, like Minnesota's, also challenges the "last in, first out" system used when there are layoffs.

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In California, a District Court ruled in 2014 that the tenure system does violate the state constitution's equal protection clause.

But that decision was overturned by a state appeals court on Thursday, the Los Angeles Times reports.

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In Minnesota's case, the Pioneer Press notes the lawsuit cites six low-performing schools the plaintiffs say illustrate the effects of having ineffective teachers in classrooms.

Gov. Mark Dayton tells the newspaper Minnesota's system of evaluating teachers was revised in 2011 to make it easier to identify and remove those who are not making the grade and he thinks the lawsuit has no merit.

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