Teacher tenure bill OK’d

On March 25, 2011, in News 2011, by Mark Norris

Measure would change rules for obtaining status

By Tom Humphrey, KnoxNews.com
March 25, 2011

NASHVILLE – The House joined the Senate on Thursday in approving a revision of Tennessee’s teacher tenure system advocated by Gov. Bill Haslam, who said the bill is a step toward “making sure every child in every classroom learns from a great teacher.”

The House floor vote on SB1528 was 65-32 with all no votes coming from Democrats. Only one Democrat, Rep. John DeBerry of Memphis, voted yes.

The bill was approved earlier by the Senate 21-12, also with all no votes coming from Democrats.

The House did adopt a relatively noncontroversial amendment, meaning the measure must now return to the Senate next week for approval of the revision. It will then go to Haslam’s desk for his signature.

A key provision of the bill will extend the time a teacher will spend on probation before being granted tenure from three years to five years. It also makes more difficult for a teacher to obtain tenure and easier for them to lose the protection tenure provides, though the new provisions do not apply to teachers already holding tenure.

Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who served as lead sponsor on the measure, said that increase from three to five years in probationary time may actually help many teachers obtain tenure.

As things stand now, he said Knox County’s school superintendent has told him that about 50 probationary teachers were dismissed last year because current law requires them to be fired unless tenure is granted. Now, he said, teachers on the borderline may be given an extra two years to prove their skills and earn tenure.

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh sought to amend the measure to postpone implementation of the revised tenure system for a year. That would allow a new teacher evaluation system to be implemented, he said, and it is “getting the horse before the cart” to have a new tenure system before the evaluation system is in place.

Fitzhugh’s amendment was killed on a party-line vote. Fitzhugh and some other Democrats said they would have supported the overall bill if the delaying amendment had been approved.

The Senate on Thursday approved 26-6 legislation projected to save large telecommunications companies $16 million in access fees they now pay to small telephone exchanges and companies.

The bill, SB598, now goes to the House, where approval is also expected now that the opposing sides have agreed to a compromise. Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris, R-Collierville, proclaimed the bill “consumer friendly” and “part of a long period of transition arising out of deregulation” of the telecommunications industry.

Those voting no were senators who have small telephone companies in their districts that will see a shift of funds they now receive to the bigger companies. The bill will reduce the access fee from an average of 7 cents per minute to 2 cents per minute.

The compromise version puts the start of the phase-in off until April 1, 2012, which Norris said would give the small companies a longer “glide path” to adjust for the decreased revenue.

Sen. Charlotte Burks, D-Monterey, one of those voting no, said AT&T, a leading proponent of the bill, refused to guarantee savings would go to benefit customers.

“We’re punishing our rural ratepayers. Their phone bills are going to go up, some of them by $10 a month,” she said.

A bill on breastfeeding, which touched off considerable commentary in committee earlier, passed the Senate 32-0 on Wednesday with very little debate.

The bill, SB83, would repeal a provision in current Tennessee law that limits a mother’s public breastfeeding of her child to the first 12 months of the child’s life. With the repeal, there would be no age limit for the child.

“Can there be any greater intrusion into the private life of a mother than to tell her she can’t breastfeed her child after the first year?” asked the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Mike Faulk, R-Church Hill.

The bill has cleared the committee system in the House and awaits only a floor vote, likely next week.


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