After a marathon debate and hours-long testimony, a divided House panel narrowly approved a groundbreaking reform that challenges Colorado’s entrenched teacher-tenure system.
Senate Bill 191 has pitted teachers against teachers while also straining relationships between historical allies over the bill’s overhaul of teacher and administrator evaluations.
The House Education Committee heard testimony on SB 191 for well over 10 hours, with raw emotions rising to the surface at times. The bipartisan measure, sponsored by Democratic Rep. Christine Scanlan of Dillon and Republican Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock in the House and Sen. Michael Johnston, D-Denver, and Sen. Nancy Spence, R-Centennial, in the Senate, has sent shock waves through the education community with its sweeping reform of how teachers are evaluated for retention.
Proponents say the measure is needed in part to keep Colorado in the running for federal Race to the Top education dollars. The funding is awarded to states showing the most innovative education reforms, including enhancing teacher proficiency.
Testimony began with two different teacher unions—one supporting and the other opposing the measure. The American Federation of Teachers said it welcomed the reforms while the Colorado Education Association, longtime allies with many Democratic lawmakers, rejected the reforms.
“The CEA rejects reform that is being done to teachers and not with them,” said CEA President Beverly Ingle.
Democratic chairman Rep. Michael Merrifield, of Colorado Springs, and several other Democratic panel members were solid in their support of the CEA’s position and expressed that solidarity throughout the evening.
“The angst doesn’t need to be here,” said Merrifield. “We have a bill here that says we’re going to get this done come hell or high water.”
Meanwhile, the Colorado Association of School Boards, the Colorado Association of School Executives, and the Department of Education all threw their support behind the measure, making for terse exchanges with the Democratic panel members opposing SB191.
Jane Urschel , speaking for CASB, said that SB191 is a new opportunity for the advancement of K-12 education in Colorado and urged the panel to embrace the opportunity.
“It’s in your hands to create a new moment in Colorado’s history. You are the only leaders who can reform aspects of earning tenure,” said Urschal.
Merrifield shot back at Urschel, citing her testimony on a previous bill that he sponsored asking for mandated arts curriculum in public schools, saying that she was being hypocritical by now supporting a bill that mandates the implementation of an evaluation system.
“You were very angry and self-righteous back then about an unfunded mandate,” said Merrifield.
CASE Deputy Executive Director Bruce Caughey said that he regretted the animosity created by the bill but said that the reforms were necessary and inevitable.
“I can’t think of a more important topic to be having a robust conversation about,” said Caughey. “I am sad about the divisive politics in this bill that we are fighting about.”
The measure passed 7-6 despite the “40,000 times no” vote cast by Democratic Rep.Cherylin Peniston of Westminster–a reference to the approximate statewide membership of the CEA. The bill must first pass muster with the House Appropriations committee before it can be considered by the full house.