A pair of cases before the Minnesota Supreme Court could spark big shifts in schools across the state.
The court has agreed to hear a case challenging teacher tenure laws that a group of Minnesota parents brought against the state and several school districts last year. The parents claim tenure protections make it too hard to fire ineffective teachers and worsen the achievement gap.
In September, the Minnesota Court of Appeals affirmed the district court's decision to dismiss the case.
The Supreme Court said it will hear the case, but stayed further action pending the outcome of a different lawsuit that claims school segregation exacerbates the achievement gap. The Minnesota Supreme Court agreed in April to hear that case.
Both cases deal with two main questions, Mitchell Hamline School of Law professor Jim Hilbert said.
• One, what is the scope of the state's constitutional obligation to provide a public school system? Plaintiffs argue, separately, that school segregation and teacher tenure laws undercut that system.
• Second, are the issues questions for the courts or the Legislature?
"It's possible that the Supreme Court of Minnesota could decide the broad scope of what is required constitutionally for school districts across the state with respect to school desegregation and even perhaps with respect to teacher tenure statutes," Hilbert said.
Hilbert filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs in the desegregation case.
If the court decides to reinstate the cases, they would return to the lower courts.
"The issues at hand ... are important for every public school family in Minnesota, and every Minnesotan who cares about a quality education for kids. When students' rights are violated, we count on the courts to protect our children," Partnership for Educational Justice director Alissa Bernstein said in a statement.
The nonprofit Partnership for Educational Justice is backing the Minnesota case and also supports similar tenure challenges in New York and New Jersey.
The Minnesota state teachers' union is not a party to the tenure case but has been supportive of the state's position.
"These lawsuits are part of a nationwide public relations campaign to mislead the public about what due process protections like tenure are all about," Education Minnesota president Denise Specht said in a statement. "These laws prevent good teachers from being fired for bad reasons."