By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
On the last day of the legislative session, the Senate concurred with House amendments to a controversial teacher-effectiveness bill, sending to the governor historic teacher tenure reform legislation.
The one-month debate over Senate Bill 191 included tears from lawmakers, cries from teachers, divisions between respective unions and midnight deadlines. But in the end, state lawmakers sent to the governor legislation that would require that teachers prove their effectiveness in order to be granted tenure. If they demonstrate two years of ineffective teaching, that tenure could be revoked.
Fifty-percent of evaluations would be based on student progress. The Governor’s Council on Educator Effectiveness would be charged with developing the evaluation system.
The House voted 36-29 in favor of the legislation; the Senate backed it 27-8. Gov. Bill Ritter, a Democrat, says he will sign SB 191 into law.
The legislation had the support of all Republicans, with a handful of Democrats joining in support to send the bill to the governor. It was sponsored and spearheaded by a Democrat and former school principal, Sen. Michael Johnston of Denver.
“There were some good changes made on the House side, all of them I think improve and strengthen the bill,” Johnston told his colleagues yesterday.
The most significant amendment Ń pushed heavily by teachers’ unions Ń offers by 2013 the possibility of binding arbitration for teachers whose tenure is revoked because they are deemed to be an “ineffective” teacher. The Council on Educator Effectiveness must by 2013 come up with this appeals process, to be approved by lawmakers.
The state’s largest teachers’ union, the Colorado Education Association, which represents an estimated 40,000 teachers, fought since April to have SB 191 killed. Of greatest concern to the union was preserving a due process system for teachers. Following that has been concerns over cost and diminishing local control.
The Colorado Education Association also repeatedly pointed out that the Council on Educator Effectiveness was only recently created in January and has yet to define “effectiveness.”
But the union yesterday took a relatively neutral stance on the passage of the bill, stating that it was pleased with several of the amendments that ended up sticking with the legislation, especially the amendment concerning an appeals process. An estimated 240 amendments had been raised over the life of the bill.
“Initially, the bill took a very complex set of topics and dealt with them in a broad and overreaching manner which raised many concerns,” said Beverly Ingle, president of the CEA. “Our 40,000 members were appalled by this attack on their profession and by the negative effects it would have on both teaching and learning.”
“Our members sprang into action and made thousands of contacts with their legislators,” continued Ingle. “They told heart-felt stories about their students and their classrooms. Because of their work calling attention to the problems in the bill, many amendments were offered and accepted. We were able to get a number of checks and balances into the bill that will make it more palatable for our members.”
Sen. Evie Hudak, D-Westminster, a former teacher, said yesterday she simply could not support the legislation, adding that the amendments do not go far enough.
“This is lipstick on a pig, ‘oink,’ vote no,” she urged her colleagues.
The debate was one of the toughest for lawmakers to face in their entire careers. Rep. Mark Ferrandino, D-Denver, broke down in tears this week for making what he called the “most difficult” decision to support the legislation. He comes from a family of educators.
Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Aurora, broke down in tears after voicing her opposition to the bill during House debate late Tuesday night.
But Senate Minority Leader Josh Penry, R-Grand Junction, a co-sponsor of the legislation, said SB 191 is nothing to cry about.
“This bill is not a bill to shed tears over, or to mourn about,” he told his colleagues. “It’s a bill that should be celebrated. What we should mourn is a public education system that fails too many. What we should mourn is the fact that a union, an organization, put its own power throughout this process ahead of what is truly good for students.”
Johnston said his legislation is finally a chance to address the potential for success in education. He related the bill to an experience he had after watching President Obama’s inauguration address in Washington, D.C. Following the address he came across a group of Tuskegee Airmen rolling down the street in their wheelchairs. He was amazed at the pride these black former airmen showed for having insisted that the military put them up in fighter planes to prove their worth and dedication to the nation at a time during World War II when black men were prohibited from air missions. Johnston said he broke down in tears when he walked over to the airmen to shake their hands.
“What we’re saying with this bill is that what mattered to the airmen is that they all got home alive, because there were people in those planes. What we’re saying now is what matters to us is that every child gets across the finish line,” Johnston said just before the Senate backed SB 191. “Every one of those kids is one of our kids, and it doesn’t mean we’ll be perfect like the airmen were, but what it does mean is that we will absolutely measure our success by how many of those kids we make sure get across the finish line.”