Teacher tenure bill approved

DENVER — Colorado teachers soon could have a new review process now that a bill dealing with how they get and keep tenure is on its way to Gov. Bill Ritter.

Although lawmakers spent hours debating Senate Bill 191 in the Colorado House late Tuesday, there was no debate Wednesday, the final day of the 2010 session.

Senators, however, had much to say about the measure before it passed the controversial bill 27-8, with only Democrats opposing it.

“The amendments we were allowed to make in the House and the Senate don’t address the fundamental concerns teachers have with the bill,” said Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster. “At its heart it assumes that the problem with public education is that there are too many ineffective teachers. The amendments made in the House and the Senate are lipstick on a pig.”

The bill calls for teachers’ performance and their ability to earn tenure to be based on whether their students improve over three consecutive years. One of the most controversial parts of the bill affects those teachers already tenured. Under it, that status could be lost if students decline in student-assessment tests for two straight years.

Those and other provisions of the bill won’t go into effect until 2012.

In that time, a newly created State Council for Educator Effectiveness is to draft guidelines for how teachers and principals will be evaluated beyond how well their students perform.

Those guidelines must be worked out with individual school boards around the state, approved by the State Board of Education and reviewed by the Legislature again, which reserved the right to get rid of rules it doesn’t like.

Initially, the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, opposed the bill but later changed to a neutral stance after several changes were approved.

CEA President Beverly Ingle said it took a lot of hard lobbying from the association’s members to get those changes.

“This bill has been much improved since it was introduced last month,” she said. “Over 200 amendments were offered as the bill worked it way through the process. We were able to get a number of checks and balances into the bill that will make it more palatable for our members.”

Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, called Democrats who joined Republicans in support of the measure “courageous” for standing up to the teacher’s union, one of the Democratic Party’s biggest backers.

He said House Democrats who literally were crying after the bill passed late Tuesday shouldn’t be sad, but happy that student performance will be the focus of teacher advancement, something he said was long overdue.

“This bill is not a bill to shed tears over or to mourn … it’s a bill that should be celebrated,” Penry said. “What we should mourn is a public education system that’s failed too many. What we should mourn is the fact that a union organization put its own power throughout this process ahead of what’s truly good for students.”

Ingle and the bill’s opponents said the state could further address teachers’ issues with more funding to public education. The problem with that is the state lacks money to increase spending for public schools, and it had to decrease funding next year because of the recession.

Ritter has indicated that he plans to sign it into law. Backers think it will boost the state’s chances of winning $175 million in the second round of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition.

A separate measure designed to ask voters to let more money go to schools died earlier Wednesday. That measure, House Concurrent Resolution 2, would have placed a question on the fall ballot to allow public school funding to be exempt from spending provisions under the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights.

It died because the controversial idea failed to get the needed two-thirds vote in the House.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report


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