Teacher-tenure bill: Union rooting for amendments to help low-rated instructors

On the final day of the Colorado legislative session, the teacher's union behind much of the uproar about a controversial bill to expand regulation of the state's K-12 teachers is praying the Senate okays a package of House amendments aimed at lessening the blow to poorly rated teachers.

Deborah Fallin, spokesperson for the Colorado Education Association, which represents 40,000 teachers, says it's all a waiting game as the Senate approaches its final vote. The union just hopes a last-minute conference committee isn't called to review the bill -- a move that could send hard-fought additions to the bill back to the chopping block.

"The critical piece for us is to see if the Senate concurs, or if they decided to go to conference committee, because then it all falls apart," Fallin says of the bill that passed the House, 36-29, in its third reading today. "It's not about one thing. It's about a package of things."

Senate Bill 191 seeks to link teacher evaluations with students' performance and give the state the ability to revoke a teacher's tenure after two unsatisfactory evaluations.

The bill has been lauded by some, including Governor Bill Ritter and education commissioner Dwight Jones, as the state vies for a chance to win in the second go of The Race To The Top contest for up to $175 million in federal education dollars.

Last month, in protest of Commissioner Jones's endorsement of the bill as a step in the right direction, the CEA abandoned its efforts to help nab a chunk of this money for state education -- a political move to defeat the measure they said unfairly targeted teachers.

But the bill, which the CEA derided as well-intentioned but filled with negative consequences for Colorado's teachers, moved on.

Now, thanks to a slew of amendments, including a guarantee of an appeal process for teachers facing loss of tenure or employment, CEA seems less apprehensive of SB 191. Nevertheless, Fallin declines to comment specifically on the bill as it faces its last turn at the state capitol.

"CEA and its 40,000 members worked very hard to take a bill that had nice ideas but was not very well developed, and we worked really hard to turn it into something that would be helpful to not only teachers, but also students," Fallin says. "Sometimes that gets lost in these discussions. Teachers are in this profession because they care about kids, and they want them to succeed in life."

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