By Todd Engdahl, EDUCATION NEWS COLORADO
The teacher effectiveness passed its toughest test yet Tuesday evening when the House gave preliminary approval to Senate Bill 10-191, the proposal to create new teacher and principal evaluation systems and to change the way that teachers gain non-probationary status – and lose it.
The standing vote came at about 11:15 p.m., after hours of emotional debate and just 45 minutes before a midnight deadline for the decision.
Sen. Mike Johnston, D-Denver and the prime mover behind the bill, said, “I’m very pleased. … All of the core components of the bill are intact. I think Colorado took a courageous step in the right direction.” Johnston watched the latter part of the debate from the House gallery.
Bev Ingle, president of the Colorado Education Association, was somber after the vote, saying her group would have to evaluate the amendments before deciding its position on the bill. CEA has been the leading opponent of the measure. Ingle did say she was disappointed with the way the push for the bill was handled. “It didn’t have to be a power play.”
The bill passed on a standing vote, and it appeared that about seven Democrats, one independent and all Republicans present supported the bill. A roll call will be taken on final passage Wednesday before the bill returns to the Senate for consideration of House amendments. The Senate passed the bill 21-14 on April 29.
Well more than a dozen amendments were proposed and debated, with most of the sponsors’ changes passed and opponents’ amendments defeated. Lengthy speeches and lots of questions from opponents propelled the debate for five and a half hours.
A key defeat for opponents came just before 10 p.m. when the House turned back an amendment by Rep. Mike Merrifield, D-Colorado Springs that basically would have gutted the bill. Six or seven Democrats and the House one independent stood with Republicans to defeat the amendment.
The House had a midnight deadline to pass the bill on preliminary consideration because legislative rules require a final vote be held no sooner than the next calendar day. And, Wednesday is the last day of the 2010 session.
The debate started at about 6:45 p.m. – following more than an hour and a half of Democratic members orating at length on House Concurrent Resolution 10-1002, the proposed constitutional amendment that would allow the legislature to raise taxes for education spending without a citizen vote. Because such a resolution requires a two-thirds majority in each house to get on the ballot, it’s not expected to pass.
But, supporters of HCR 10-1002 used it to highlight their concerns about the troubled state of education funding in Colorado. No Republicans spoke on HCR 10-1002. And, no GOP members except Rep. Carole Murray, D-Castle Rock and a co-prime sponsor, spoke on SB 10-191.
The debate was between Democrats.
The main opposition speakers were Democratic Reps. Merrifield of Colorado Springs, Nancy Todd of Aurora, Judy Solano of Brighton and Debbie Benefield of Arvada, the core of the traditionalit group on the House Education Committee. All but Benefield are retired teachers; she’s a longtime parent activist in Jefferson County.
They were assisted by Rep. Sarah Gagliardi, D-Arvada, a nurse who’s generally doesn’t have a high profile on education issues. Gagliardi seemed to have the assignment of asking sponsors to explain the meaning of proposed amendments in detail.
The speeches by Merrifield, Todd, Solano and Benefield alternated between emotional pleas and sharp attacks laced with sarcasm. They repeatedly quoted from letters and e-mails written by teachers opposed to the bill.
“This is not a teacher effectiveness bill. This is a measure-and-punish bill,” Merrifield said his last of several turns at the podium.
Several other Democrats rose to speak against the bill at length.
But, Rep. Karen Middleton, D-Aurora and a former member of the State Board of Education, defended the bill and voted for it. At one point she rose to chide Rep. Max Tyler, D-Golden, who used an ill-considered analogy about a baker and maggoty flour to talk about teachers who have to deal with difficult students.
A chastened Tyler apologized for his remarks and withdrew an amendment he’d proposed.
Rep. Beth McCann, a Democratic lawyer whose district covers a wide swath of northeast Denver, spoke the most eloquently in support of the bill.
She agreed with critics concerned about the potential costs of the bill and the financial pressures facing schools. “We have to get real in this state and support public education with our money.”
But, McCann said, the bill may provide needed impetus for improved educator effectiveness, and, “These kids can’t wait.”
Co-prime sponsor Rep. Christine Scanlan, D-Dillon, and Murray kept their cool at the microphone under criticism of the bill, briefly explaining amendments and successfully urging defeat of hostile ones.
Scanlan spent much of her afternoon out of the House chamber, working on amendments, conferring with House Speaker Terrance Carroll, D-Denver and a bill supporter, and talking to lobbyists, Johnston and other legislative leaders.
Cluster of lobbyists grouped and regrouped in the House lobby and along the second-floor brass rails, conferring on proposed amendments and talking on their cell phones. Department of Education officials and more lobbyists watched the debate from the gallery.
An emotional Todd returned to the microphone alone after the voting was done and as the House was about to adjourn.
The bill is “not a message of hope and encouragement for teachers. … I am so sad at the divisiveness this bill has caused in our state and legislature. … I do want you to hear my heart, because my heart is speaking for 40,000 teachers in the state of Colorado,” she said.
Interestingly enough, little of the discussion focused on the long timelines and multiple decision points that were amended into the bill by the Senate.
The existing Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness will develop definitions of teacher and principal effectiveness and is assigned with developing many other details of evaluation systems, cost and educator improvement. After the council is done, the State Board of Education will issue regulations, which will be subject to review by the legislature.
There will be testing of evaluation systems after that, with the full program not going into effect statewide for five years.
An amendment added on the floor Tuesday directs the council to develop proposals for binding arbitration in the cases of teachers who lose non-probationary status because of unsatisfactory evaluations. The council will make its recommendations directly to the legislature, not the state board.
CEA lobbyists said that amendment was important to them, but it’s not immediately clear how large a change the provision makes in the bill’s overall thrust. But, the amendment is of concern to some school district interests and also could prompt questions from Republican senators.
The bill has generated an emotional, complex and sometimes over-simplified debate over how to measure teacher quality, whether standardized tests are an accurate measure, cuts in school funding, the wisdom of taking action this year, lack of parental involvement in schools, the political clout of the CEA and how teachers are treated in society.
Many opponents of the bill feel double-crossed by the measure because it would expand on and change the work of the council, a group created by executive order in January after agreement by a wide variety of education interests, including the CEA. The council was supposed to develop definitions of principal and teacher effectiveness and make recommendations to the legislature and State Board of Education by the fall of 2011.
The bill would give the council additional duties and put its functions into state law. A key feature of both the executive order and the bill is the requirement that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on student academic growth over time. The bill also applies that standard to principals. And, the bill specifies that growth will be measured by a variety of assessments, not just the annual CSAP.
The bill also requires mutual consent between a principal and a teacher for placement in a school, although a House committee amendment requires a principal consult with other teachers in a school. The bill also make satisfactory evaluations a factor in layoffs, and for the first time would require non-probationary teachers to return to probation after two unsatisfactory evaluations.
That, and cost, have been a major sticking point for CEA and led to amendments that would give teachers some appeal rights in cases of unsatisfactory evaluations.
While CEA and a large corps of Democratic legislators have led the charge against the bill, it’s been endorsed by the American Federation of Teachers-Colorado, the Colorado associations of school boards and school executives, the Colorado Children’s Campaign, the state board, education Commissioner Dwight Jones, Gov. Bill Ritter and his three immediate predecessors and numerous business, education and community groups.
Some supporters hope passage of the bill will improve Colorado’s chance in the second-round Race to the Top competition, but the sponsors have been downplaying the importance of that.
In other coverage
Associated Press: A proposal to change the way teachers earn and keep tenure appears likely to pass before lawmakers adjourn for the year. The bill passed an initial vote in the House late Tuesday by a vote of 36-29. It came about 45 minutes before the midnight deadline to keep the bill alive for another vote on Wednesday, the final day of the legislative session.
The Denver Post: With a midnight deadline bearing down on Colorado lawmakers, the controversial teacher-reform bill passed second reading, with eight Democrats crossing party lines to vote for Senate Bill 191. More than 33 lawmakers rose in support of the bill at about 11:15 p.m., allowing its return to the House for third reading today, when a roll-call vote will be taken.
The Durango Herald: State House Democrats staged an uprising against a teacher-tenure bill Tuesday night, and their move threatened to plunge the last hours of the legislative session into chaos. Senate Bill 191 would give teachers the job protection of tenure only after they prove their effectiveness in the classroom, partially through their students’ test scores.