Utah teacher employment bill gets early nod, but only after debate
Shortly after educators, business leaders and parents lined up Monday to show support for a bill to significantly change educator employment laws, senators spent more than an hour debating and poking holes in the proposal.
The Senate ultimately gave preliminary approval Monday to SB64, voting 26-3 to advance it to third reading, meaning it must pass the Senate once more before going to the House. But that vote came after lengthy debate on the bill, which would hold administrators, teachers and other school district employees more accountable by tying performance to pay and continued employment.
"I believe that where we have missed the mark in education reform is we focus solely on the education employee," said bill sponsor Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan. "Instead, I think we need to focus on administrative leadership within our schools. ... When you have a problem with the success or output of an organization you look to its leadership, and that's what I believe this bill is about."
SB64 would require administrators to undergo annual evaluations based on student academic progress, leadership skills, ability to complete teacher evaluations and other areas decided by a local school board. Districts would eventually have to tie at least 15 percent of administrators' pay to performance.
The bill would also make significant changes to teacher employment and compensation. For district employees, including teachers, the bill would establish four new performance categories based on annual evaluations. Employees who receive low ratings would not get scheduled raises. Employees whose performance is rated poor twice in three years could be fired. And when teachers perform poorly, administrators would have up to 120 days to either remediate them or make employment decisions.
Shortly before the bill hit the Senate floor, representatives of a number of groups gathered at a news conference to show support for the measure. Osmond has spent months working on the bill, talking with a variety of groups and meeting with teachers across the state.
On Monday, leaders of the Utah Education Association, Utah School Boards Association, the state's business communities, the PTA, the Governor's Education Excellence Commission, and a representative from the governor's office all expressed support for the proposal.
State Superintendent Larry Shumway called it a "step forward in ensuring that we have high-quality teaching in every classroom."
"The legislation that has been developed is not everything everyone might have wanted," Shumway said. "It's a compromise. That is the kind of work that's hard to do."
Several called it "landmark" legislation.
Jolynne Alger, a parent who manages an 1,800-member Facebook group called Jordan District for Quality Education, said the bill epitomizes the collaboration and compromise that could benefit more bills.
"Everyone goes around Utah screaming, 'We want local control. We want local government.' But yet then we have legislators who shove legislation down our throats and decide they know what's best for us and this is how it's going to be. He did the complete opposite," Alger said of Osmond.
"If everything could be done like this, I don't think there would be very many bad bills."
But once the bill hit the floor, many lawmakers expressed questions and concerns.
Sen. Howard Stephenson, R-Draper, said he worries it doesn't do enough to prevent principals from rating all teachers highly.
Sen. Stuart Reid, R-Ogden, said he fears the changes might not improve education, in which case he wondered whether Osmond would be willing to try "something a little more aggressive."
And Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, said Osmond has left some groups such as the Association of American Educators, a non-union association out of discussions. Adams also said he worries the bill would create an expectation that educators receive performance pay on top of their regularly scheduled raises something Osmond said could be an issue only if both his and Adams' bills pass.
Adams is running a separate bill, SB67, addressing similar issues. But Adams' bill would gradually do away with the current system of teacher raises based on experience and educational attainment, instead paying teachers for performance. Adams' bill has gained committee approval and awaits hearing on the Senate floor.
Some lawmakers have suggested Osmond's and Adams' bills be considered together, though Osmond said he wants each to be heard separately. Osmond said Monday he considered, at one point, including performance pay for teachers in his bill. But Osmond decided, after talking with educators and others, that now is not the right time for that, as the state has not yet fully implemented new computer-adaptive tests or a "valid, reliable evaluation structure."
In the end, many lawmakers voted to support the bill but noted their concerns as they voted. Others congratulated Osmond on his months of work and discussion on the bill.
"It's something that will have a great impact," said Sen. Karen Morgan, D-Cottonwood Heights.