The Virginia House of Delegates passed a measure to replace unlimited public school teacher tenure with three-year contracts. The state Senate narrowly defeated, 18-22, a companion bill to do the same, but Gov. Bob McDonnell will have a chance to lobby state Senators for this key component of his education agenda before the House bill moves to the Senate.
“Considering that this bill is a priority of the Governor—and that the Senate version was killed because two Republican Senators in a 20-20 Senate chose not to vote at all—I suspect we’re going to see the governor step up and have long conversations with senators about the importance of the [House] bill to the future of public education in Virginia,” said Christian Braunlich, vice president of the Thomas Jefferson Institute in Virginia.
The measure, introduced by Del. Richard Bell (R-Staunton), passed the Virginia House of Delegates in mid-February. All 20 Senate Democrats voted against its companion bill.
Two Votes Short
“The Virginia Education Association mounted a shrill and vehement opposition to the governor’s proposal, and the voting went almost entirely along party lines,” said Don Soifer, executive vice president of the Lexington Institute. “The same legislature approved a major school reform victory with tuition tax credits that same week, and this plan fell just two votes short.”
Virginia teachers currently receive tenure after three years of probation. The proposal would extend that probationary period to five years, after which teachers could sign a three-year contract with no option for permanent tenure.
“It’s also important to ensure teachers, like employees in any job, receive regular feedback on their performance,” Braunlich said.
‘Consequences for Underperforming’
State Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg), who introduced the companion legislation in the Senate, said the proposal is designed to benefit both children and teachers.
“In every other job, those who perform well are rewarded, and there are consequences for underperforming,” he said. “When it comes to educating our children, we shouldn’t accept a lower standard. Teachers who receive ‘unacceptable’ evaluations shouldn’t remain in the classroom. It’s not fair to our kids, and it’s not fair to other teachers who have to pick up the slack.”
Rethinking the Rules
The proposal would also require annual teacher evaluations, tie 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to student performance on standardized tests, and remove last in, first out requirements.
Current policy, Braunlich said, “doesn’t serve students well, and it certainly doesn’t inspire teacher excellence. Ensuring that teacher performance is a factor in determining reductions in force is a vital part of establishing a high quality and permanent instructional workforce.”
Soifer says additional reforms could make teacher accountability more politically palatable.
“It seems likely that if Virginia can improve its school accountability system to better include minority achievement gaps and student growth,” he said, “more lawmakers will have the confidence to pass a plan like this down the road.”
Image by Bob McDonnell’s office.