CARSON CITY, Nev. — A Senate committee passed two Democrat-supported bills making it easier to fire underperforming teachers and administrators, despite Republican objections that the bill concedes too much to unions.
Members of the Senate Education Committee on Friday voted unanimously to advance measures to extend a mandatory probationary period for new teachers to three years and send teachers back to probation if they receive unsatisfactory evaluations two consecutive years.
"We have some amazing things we're doing to reform education," said committee chairman Sen. Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, acknowledging disagreements on the role of collective bargaining. "In the big picture, we're going to help kids."
The bills — spearheaded by Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, D-Las Vegas, and Assembly Speaker Pro Tempore Debbie Smith, D-Sparks — already passed the Assembly and head for a vote in the full Senate. They likely face more amendments after that vote to resolve lingering questions about the process of firing teachers and the role of seniority in layoffs.
The measures are part of a package of Democratic education bills based on recommendations from the Education Reform Blue Ribbon Task Force, which prepared Nevada's application for federal Race to the Top dollars. Democrats have pointed to the bills as some of their capstone reforms.
But Republicans — who have repeatedly vowed they want to see reforms before they negotiate a tax increase — question whether the amended bills are strong enough to qualify as reforms.
"Let's not mistake bills for reform bills," said Sen. Greg Brower, R-Reno, who declined to classify the current versions of the measures — AB225 and AB229 — as reform bills or regular bills.
"It's a small step forward," Brower said. "There's lots of discussion and debate to do."
AB229 establishes a four-level evaluation system for teachers and administrators that rates teachers on a scale of "highly effective" to "ineffective." Teachers who receive an "ineffective" or "minimally effective" rating for two consecutive years return to probationary status, in which they are on a year-to-year contract.
New teachers are automatically on probationary status and can have their contracts discontinued at the end of the year.
The Nevada State Education Association union is pushing for more protections for teachers who are sent back to probationary status, although representatives from the school districts testified that lengthy due process hearings would dilute the impact of the reform.
Gov. Brian Sandoval offered amendments, and the committee included his recommendation that teacher evaluations be based at least 50 percent on data about student achievement.
But the committee could not agree on language addressing "last in, first out" or "LIFO" — the policy of using seniority as the sole consideration when a district goes through layoffs. Two motions to add more categories of consideration to the layoff process failed the Democrat-controlled committee.
The committee also voted on party lines, with Democrats in favor, to keep language that allows collective bargaining agreements to supersede some bill provisions.