Capitol Alert

California Republicans announce teacher evaluation, employment overhaul

Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, and Republican caucus members announce their education package at StudentsFirst’s Sacramento office on Wednesday, March 4, 2015.
Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, and Republican caucus members announce their education package at StudentsFirst’s Sacramento office on Wednesday, March 4, 2015. The Sacramento Bee

Saying a major court decision that rejected California’s teacher employment rules compels them to act, Assembly Republicans on Wednesday unveiled a legislative package to overhaul how the state evaluates, dismisses and grants tenure to educators.

“We’ve seen over time court cases can drag on and on for years, and we want to make sure that California’s schools are of the utmost quality today,” said Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank. “We are hopeful that (court) decision will be a game-changer for policymaking and education,” she added. “We really need to reset the conversation.”

Judge Rolf Treu sent a shiver through California’s public school system last year in ruling unconstitutional the state’s process for dismissing teachers and awarding tenure, finding that they deprived kids of their right to a quality teacher and a sound education. Treu specifically faulted rules he said allow underperforming teachers to remain in front of classrooms.

Teachers unions objected to the ruling in Vergara v. California, and Democratic state officials appealed. Republicans, meanwhile, called it an unavoidable call to reconfigure education policy, with gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari making it a centerpiece of his campaign.

Now Assembly Republicans are touting a set of proposals echoing changes that have been attempted at the national level and in states across the country, often sparking fierce fights and antagonizing teachers unions. The bills will likely face a tough road in surmounting the California Teachers Association’s considerable clout in Sacramento.

The proposals include a bill repealing the “last in, first out” rule in which inexperienced teachers go first during budget-driven staff reductions; a bill extending from two years to three how long it takes to win tenure and allowing teachers to lose tenure if they receive poor evaluations; and a bill from Olsen, requiring annual teacher evaluations that incorporate test scores and student feedback and would give teachers one of four ratings (many districts now rate teachers simply satisfactory or not satisfactory).

“The evaluations that take place, if they do take place, are really meaningless,” Olsen said.

Also in the package is a bill reversing a limit, imposed through last year’s budget, on how much money school districts can keep in reserve. Republicans have repeatedly assailed the change.

“Our school districts know best what their reserves need to be and what to plan for,” said Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Dublin, saying the cap “is jeopardizing the financial stability of all of our school districts.”

Assembly members made their announcement in the office of StudentsFirst, an education reform organization that was founded by the polarizing former Washington, D.C. schools chief Michelle Rhee (she has since stepped down). Frequently on the opposite side of issues from unions, StudentsFirst spent $592,000 to support or oppose legislative candidates last cycle, some of them Democrats.

Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543.

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