Capitol Alert

Democrats kill Republican bills on teacher tenure, firing

Nancy Lee, STAR program manager at Tahoe Elementary School in Tahoe Park, talks with children over dinner on April 14 in Sacramento.
Nancy Lee, STAR program manager at Tahoe Elementary School in Tahoe Park, talks with children over dinner on April 14 in Sacramento. jvillegas@sacbee.com

A legislative committee on Wednesday rejected Republican education bills that would have overhauled teacher tenure and firing rules in response to a federal judge striking down California’s teacher employment laws.

In a resounding ruling last year, Judge Rolf Treu declared that California’s laws violate the civil rights of students by allowing ineffective teachers to remain in classrooms. Treu’s decision in Vergara v. California specifically targeted the method for firing teachers; the length of time it takes teachers to win permanent employment status; and the last-in-first-out policy dictating that the least experienced teachers go first during budget-driven layoffs.

The teacher firing method was addressed in a law passed last year. Majority Democrats killed the latter two in the Assembly Education Committee on Wednesday by sending them to “interim study.” The politically powerful California Teachers Association has appealed Treu’s ruling and opposed the Republican bill package. Representatives of the CTA and the California Federation of Teachers union testified against the bills Wednesday, as did long lines of working teachers.

“There’s this cloud of ‘Let’s do things to teachers because of Vergara,’” said California Federation of Teachers lobbyist Ron Rapp.

Assembly Bill 1044, by Assemblywoman Catherine Baker, R-Dublin, would have nixed last-in-first-out by declaring seniority cannot be the sole factor governing layoffs.

Deciding layoffs exclusively through experience “constrains local school districts from making decisions that are in the best interest of students and fair to teachers,” Baker said before the committee shelved the bill.

AB 1248, by Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, would have extended from two to three years how long it takes for teachers to win tenure and would allow administrators to revoke tenure if teachers have consecutive poor performance reviews. Critics said that would crumble the central pillar of teacher job security.

“These changes would make education an incredibly insecure profession and would essentially do away with due process,” said Seth Bramble, a CTA lobbyist. On a 4-3 vote, the committee sent the bill to interim study, essentially stalling it.

Also getting the ax was legislation by Assembly Minority Leader Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, on the deeply divisive topic of how schools evaluate teachers. AB 1078 would increase the number of ratings teachers could be assigned and would require educators to be judged in part based on student test scores. It was sidetracked to interim study on a 4-3 vote.

A better fate awaited Olsen’s AB 1099, which would have districts disclose more data on how they evaluate teachers and principals, and how they are implementing California’s new school funding formula. That bill passed 6-0 despite resistance from teacher unions.

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

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