Opposed by both the state’s powerful teachers unions and the education overhaul groups they are frequently at odds with – a sight so unusual it was noted by committee members – a bill to change how California schools retain and fire teachers fell short in its first legislative vote Wednesday.
Teacher tenure and layoff policies are a perpetual source of conflict at the Capitol, though little ever changes. Frustrated by the stagnation, advocates took their efforts to the courts several years ago, in a landmark case that may be headed next to the California Supreme Court.
But in her final year in office, Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a former teacher, tried one last time to broker a deal.
The Concord Democrat’s Assembly Bill 934 originally sought to give school administrators more time to evaluate struggling teachers before giving them full job protections and created an expedited process to dismiss those teachers if they received additional professional support and did not improve. It would also have introduced the consideration of job evaluations into California’s controversial seniority-based layoffs policy.
Facing strong resistance from teachers unions, she amended the measure again before its first hearing in the Senate Education Committee – and actually lost support. Unions objected to a change that would have simply extended the tenure evaluation period for all teachers to three years. With the expedited dismissal process now voluntary and the layoff provision removed entirely, education groups that previously supported the proposal rejected it as a “mere shell of its former self.”
“This bill isn’t fully baked, even though it’s 100 degrees,” Bill Lucia, president of EdVoice, said at Wednesday’s hearing.
Two Democrats on the committee urged their colleagues to pass the measure anyway to keep both sides involved in negotiations.
“We have never had anything other than a banal, stereotypical confrontation on this issue,” said Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley. “We’re essentially dooming ourselves to every few years having this same process happen.”
“Maybe they’ll take it more seriously if we let this bill out,” added Sen. Carol Liu, D-La Cañada Flintridge, the committee chairwoman.
Despite the passionate pleas of Bonilla, who read a selection from Theodore Roosevelt’s “The Man in the Arena” speech in her closing remarks, none of the committee’s other Democrats or Republicans joined them in voting for the bill.