The N.C. Supreme Court has modified but affirmed a previous court ruling striking down the portion of the 2013 state budget law that stripped tenure, also known as “career status,” from public school teachers.

Writing for the unanimous court, Justice Bob Edmunds notes:

We hold that these changes are a substantial impairment of the bargained-for benefit promised to the teachers who have already achieved career status. Retroactively revoking this status from those whose career status rights had already vested deprives career teachers of the promise of continuing employment, as well as the right to a hearing in circumstances in which their now-shortened contracts may not be renewed. Plaintiffs’ affidavits indicate they relied both on the promise of continued employment as a form of added compensation to supplement their lower salaries and on the benefits of career status when deciding to continue teaching in the public school systems. Elimination of these benefits substantially deprives current career status teachers of the value of their vested contractual rights.

Edmunds adds:

While we acknowledge that the retroactive repeal was motivated by the General Assembly’s valid concern for flexibility in dismissing low-performing teachers, we do not see how repealing career status from those for whom that right had already vested was necessary and reasonable.

The Supreme Court did not address another key element from the N.C. Court of Appeals opinion. The three-judge Appeals Court panel ruled that the General Assembly could remove the possibility of tenure for any public school teacher who had not yet achieved career status by July 2013.