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VOL. 35 | NO. 9 | Friday, March 4, 2011




Governor's tenure proposal advances in House

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NASHVILLE (AP) — Republican Gov. Bill Haslam's proposal to make it more difficult for teachers to get — and keep — tenure advanced in the House on Wednesday after a failed attempt to delay the measure for at least a year.

The proposal carried by Republican Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville passed the House Education Subcommittee 9-4. The companion bill was scheduled to be heard by the full Senate on Thursday.

The measure would require a teacher to be on the job five years instead of three to get tenure and would create a way for the job security to be revoked for poor teaching performance.

Democratic Rep. Craig Fitzhugh of Ripley tried unsuccessfully to delay the measure. He said he proposed his amendment because of uncertainty surrounding the evaluation system.

The Tennessee Education Association, the state's largest teacher's union, and other Democrats have raised concerns. They say the evaluation system to be used to make tenure decisions was not in effect yet and that it has not been determined how best to rate educators whose subjects aren't covered by the state's value-added test scoring program.

Fitzhugh said his proposal would give time for the evaluation system to be in place before passing a law based on it.

"I truly think we're getting ahead of ourselves. We're just not quite there," Fitzhugh said.

TEA president Gera Summerford agreed.

"With such great decisions being made based on that, we just feel like we've got to have some time to see how it's going to work," she said.

Earlier Wednesday, Bill Rhodes, CEO of Memphis-based auto parts retailer AutoZone, told The Associated Press earlier this week that he thinks improving teacher accountability is crucial to boosting public education in the state.

"To ask a teacher to spend five years refining their trade seems like a very reasonable period of time to me," said Rhodes, who also heads a business group called Memphis Tomorrow that has endorsed Haslam's education proposals.

Businesses are taking an interest in the legislation because education standards affect their bottom lines, particularly when it comes to finding qualified workers.

"The vast majority of our AutoZoners around the country are coming from the K-12 public education systems," said Rhodes. "These are the folks that are the lifeblood of our company — so the better their education, the better our business prospects."

Democrats say Haslam's proposals are losing their support because of other Republicans' efforts to strip teachers' collective bargaining rights with local school districts. Haslam has remained neutral on that bill, but his refusal to either embrace or reject the measure has made him the target of criticism from both sides of the political spectrum.

The collective bargaining measure had been scheduled for a vote in the House Education Subcommittee on Wednesday, but the vote was delayed.

Rhodes said the collective bargaining measure, which has sparked protests at the Capitol, shouldn't distract from the tenure proposal.

"Governor Haslam has done a very nice job of saying that's not what his effort is about," he said. "His effort is about teacher tenure."

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