The Senate Education Committee gave Gov. Bill Haslam his first legislative achievement Wednesday by approving his measure to overhaul Tennessee’s teacher tenure system.
But the governor failed to win bipartisan support. The bill passed 6-3, with all three of the committee’s Democrats voting no.
Haslam’s proposal extends new teachers’ probation from three years to five years. At that point, they become eligible for tenure if they are graded in the top two of five evaluation categories. They could fall back onto probation and lose tenure if they are evaluated in the bottom two categories two years in a row.
An alternative bill by Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, would extend the probationary period to up to 10 years for teachers. In addition, the bill would end a dismissed teacher’s right of appeal to chancery court.
In a speech Tuesday to the Tennessee chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, House Speaker Beth Harwell defended Haslam’s tenure law changes as aimed at improving education, not weakening the teachers’ union — a traditional political ally of Democrats.
“When the governor pushes for reform of tenure law, he’s doing it with the right motive in mind,” Harwell said. “I mean think of it. Would you want someone in front of your child every day that for two consecutive years did not pass proficiency in teaching, whose children did not pass the test? Would you want them to be your child’s teacher the next year? We can’t allow that to continue to happen.
“And so when we review the tenure laws, that’s what we have in mind,” Harwell added. “What’s best for the student? This is not an attempt to hurt a teacher. This is an attempt to help the student learn in the classroom.”