Colorado Senate passes teacher tenure bill
Aspen, CO Colorado
DENVER – Legislation requiring that teachers and principals be graded based on how well their students are performing cleared the state Senate on Friday.
The Senate voted 21-14 to back the proposal, which would remove job protections for teachers deemed to be ineffective for two straight years, starting in 2015. The measure (Senate Bill 191) now moves to the House, where it’s expected to face more opposition.
House sponsor Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Silverthorne, said there are more former teachers among majority Democrats in the House and other members of the caucus who respect their opinion. The bill is opposed by the state’s largest teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, a traditional Democratic ally.
Scanlan said the earliest the bill would get a hearing is Wednesday, exactly a week before lawmakers must adjourn for the year.
Democrats also control the Senate but most Democratic senators, including President Brandon Shaffer, voted against the bill. However, seven Democrats – Sens. Dan Gibbs of Silverthorne, Rollie Heath of Boulder, Mary Hodge of Brighton, Linda Newell of Littleton, Michael Johnston and Joyce Foster, both of Denver – voted with all 14 Senate Republicans for the bill.
Most of the debate in the Senate was among Democrats, who struggled with how far the bill should go. Many of those Democrats who ultimately voted for the bill joined with Republicans to block amendments that would have given teachers more ability to appeal bad evaluations and allowed a lack of parental involvement to be factored into evaluations.
“This is a right side of history vote. Those of us who will vote for it will not regret it,” Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry said, speaking more to lawmakers across the aisle than in his own party.
Democratic Sen. Evie Hudak, a former English teacher from Westminster, said the bill would require administrators to do annual evaluations of teachers just as budget cuts are forcing districts like hers to lay off the assistant principals who help principals focus more on working with teachers.
Sen. Bob Bacon, a former history teacher from Fort Collins, said he struggled with passing such a major change without providing schools with more funding or holding students more accountable.
Johnston and other Democratic backers of the bill have vowed to follow up with an attempt to ask voters for more money for schools next year.
Under the bill, at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation must be based on whether their students have shown improvement during two straight school years. A principal would be judged according to how their students have performed and how well their teachers are doing.
Only teachers who have improved student performance for three straight years would be able to earn what effectively amounts to tenure under Colorado law.
Currently, teachers can get tenure status after three years in the classroom, and it’s difficult and costly to dismiss any teachers later found to be ineffective.
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