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A LIFO Debate in NYC

June 06, 2011

Jonathan Bing is a Democrat serving his fifth term in the New York State Assembly representing the Upper East Side and East Midtown Manhattan. He is a leader on education, economic development and advocacy for libraries and the arts. In 2010 and in 2011, Jonathan introduced legislation in the Assembly which would repeal the "last in, first Out" (LIFO) provision of state education law. It requires that teacher layoffs be based solely on seniority without any regard to performance for which the New York Daily News called him "a profile in courage" that has "stepped up big time for parents and students."

As states and cities across the nation experience record budget deficits, it is necessary to cut highly valued government services and programs. Regrettably, in New York City, this means the potential layoff of several thousand public school teachers. To combat the most egregious effects of the impending teacher layoffs, I introduced a bill in the New York State Assembly to repeal "last in, first out" or LIFO.

When layoffs of teachers are necessary due to budget deficits, the LIFO provision of New York State education law dictates that the last teachers hired be the first fired, regardless of the teacher's quality. In fact, seniority is currently the only factor that may be considered. As a result, many of our most effective teachers are sent packing and schools in growing and high-needs communities are disproportionately impacted.

LIFO should be repealed because it harms communities where teachers are needed the most. That's why the ACLU filed a lawsuit in California to end LIFO in that state. School districts in the South Bronx will lose 20 percent or more of their teachers under LIFO, while other districts in the city will only lose five percent. Why? School districts in low-income communities have a larger share of junior teachers who would be among the first laid off under LIFO. This will cause significant disruptions in an educational environment that can ill-afford such distractions. It is also within the schools in these low-income neighborhoods that the majority of students are African-American or Latino, resulting in LIFO's unintended consequence of discrimination.

New Yorkers have gotten the message about LIFO. A recent poll found that 85 percent of New Yorkers support LIFO's repeal. Proponents of maintaining the status quo, however, claim that repealing LIFO is "anti-teacher" and "anti-union." This sentiment could not be further from the truth. In fact, the legislation I have authored specifically states that collective bargaining will control layoff procedures between the United Federation of Teachers (UFT) and the City. It's taking an antiquated, 70-year old law under which teachers have no say in how layoffs are conducted and gives them a voice in the process that they never had. That's why Educators 4 Excellence, a group of more than 2,000 recently-hired teachers – who are also UFT members – has made reforming LIFO their signature issue.

Proponents of the current system also say that New York City has enough money this year to stave off teacher layoffs so LIFO's repeal is not needed. Not only do they not have their facts straight, but it's like saying that you shouldn't build a fire escape on an apartment building because it's not currently on fire. Why would any recent Teach for America or master's of education graduate want to teach in a state where they know that no matter how good a teacher they are or will become, they will be fired if the economy declines? New York State needs a structural fix in place so that are children are taught by the best teachers possible no matter the state of the economy.

In a state that prides itself on its progressive politics and forward-thinking policies, its education system should not be a relic of a bygone era. LIFO has shown itself to be a regressive, backwards policy that will shortchange the education of thousands of children across New York. The time to repeal LIFO is now.

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