When a judge ruled this summer that California's teacher tenure laws deprived minority students of an equal education, legal observers concluded that it was likely other states could see similar lawsuits, particularly those where efforts to scale back tenure have failed.
Could Minnesota - a state lawmakers routinely skirmish over the issue of teacher tenure - be one such state?
That remains unclear but one person with good insight into the matter is Marcellus McRae, the lead co-counsel for the plaintiffs in Vergara v. California. On Friday, he was in the Twin Cities at the urging of the White Bear Area Chamber of Commerce to talk to members about the landmark case.
Before speaking at the chamber event, McRae stopped by the Star Tribune to talk about the case, which has been appealed by the state of California.
Before he had a chance to take his coat off, McRae was asked about the likelihood Minnesota would have to defend its teacher tenure laws in court.
"I think the answer is yes," said McRae, an attorney with Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher, a global law firm that has represented clients like Apple Inc., Chevron and Wal Mart.
McRae explained that Minnesota's constitution has a couple of notable provisions that make it ripe for a legal challenge. The first is that students have a constitutional right to an education. The second, he said, is an equal protection clause.
In looking at Minnesota's statutes concerning tenure, he was he was struck by the fact that - like in California - it's not tied to job performance.
In Minnesota, teachers are eligible to earn tenure after three years. In California, it takes two years.
"One of the things that we found is that it is absolutely imperative that you don’t talk about tenure in terms of time," he said. "Saying that someone has been teaching for five years ipso facto they should get tenure. That misses the point entirely."
McRae also noted that current law allows seniority to dictate teacher layoffs in Minnesota, just like it does in California. That particular California statute, however, was found unconstitutional by Judge Rolf Treu in the Vergara case.
With Republicans taking control of the Minnesota House of Representatives, that issue seems all but certain to come back again.
Members of the state teachers union, Education Minnesota, have argued that getting rid of LIFO only allows school district to get rid of their more expensive veteran teachers in favor of rookie teachers with lower salaries.
Tenure, they say, is about ensuring teachers have due process - not jobs for life.
Last week, the Star-Tribune published an article that showed teachers with the lowest ratings work at some of the most economically disadvantaged schools.
Minneapolis teachers have complained that the evaluation data is flawed and that teachers in struggling schools are handicapped from getting better scores.
McRae said he and other attorneys in the Vergara case proved that "grossly ineffective" teachers harm students in ways that affect their learning for years.
"Still, I want to be clear. Our case in California, the Vergara case, was not an anti-tenure case – and was not an anti-teacher case," he said. "It was a pro teacher case. We noted in our complaint that there are a number of teachers who do a good job at educating students"
McRae declined to discuss whether Students Matter, the group that funded the lawsuit and is backed by Silicon Valley technology magnate David Welch, had been in touch with anyone in Minnesota .
You can see McRae's closing arguments in the Vergara case here.