Judge Sides with Michigan on Issue of Tenure, Teacher Evaluations

After Michigan passed four bills in 2011 which made mandatory a new teacher assessment system, broadened the district’s and the state’s power to fire and demote teachers, and limited the teachers unions power to collectively bargain away the rules, the state’s 465 school districts – and one taxpayer representing each – filed a lawsuit arguing that the new rules were a violation of the state constitution prohibition on unfunded mandates.

As Brian Smith of Michigan Live has reported that the Michigan appeals court ruled against the plaintiffs, saying that neither the evaluation system nor the new teacher tenure rules met the definition of an unfunded mandate under the Headlee Amendment of the Michigan constitution.

“The question is not whether the state mandate has some adverse fiscal consequence on the unit of local government, but instead, whether the mandate imposes new or increased activities within the meaning of the POUM provision,” the court stated.

The challenge to the tenure act modifications was rejected because the court concluded the changes did not constitute an “activity” under the unfunded mandate provision.

“Regardless of whether the challenged amendments to the tenure act reduce or increase the protections afforded to tenured teachers, the simple fact of the matter is that the public acts merely modify existing protections and, thus, still provide a level of protection to tenured public teachers against the arbitrary and capricious employment practices of administrators and school boards,” the court stated.

The decision was not an outright victory for the state Department of Education, State Superintendent Mike Flanagan, State Treasurer Andy Dillon and the state’s budget director John Nixon, who were all named in the suit. Although a declaratory judgment was granted on tenure and the assessment system requirement, the issue of data reporting is being sent over to the court-appointed special master for further evaluation.

Specifically, the special master is being asked to determine if the amount of money allocated by the legislature in order to cover the costs of the increased data gathering and reporting now required is sufficient to cover the districts’ expenses.

The districts had argued the legislature did not appropriate the correct amount, but the special master concluded the districts failed to meet their burden of proof by not showing the exact dollar figure needed to reimburse the cost of the reporting.

The appeals court concluded the special master had placed a higher burden than was required on the school districts, and sent that claim back with instructions to conduct another evidentiary hearing on the matter.