California Teacher Tenure Probation Bill Dies in Committee

(Photo: SF Chronical)

(Photo: SF Chronical)

The latest legislative push to extend the probationary period for teachers faltered last week in the California Senate Education Committee, as the bill’s author failed to find enough votes to move the bill forward.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, a Democrat, hoped to shepherd Assembly Bill 934 through the Education Committee by sticking to a middle-of-the-road approach that avoided the ire of teacher unions, which called the bill an attack on teachers’ due-process rights, while education groups that criticized the bill for being a substitute for comprehensive reform.

“It is frustrating when two opposing sides are not only unwilling to compromise, but are vehemently reluctant to work together to achieve the mutual goal of providing a high quality education for all California students,” said Assemblywoman Bonilla.  “While I am disappointed in the end result, I am proud of the journey and work we have been able to accomplish, providing a platform to discuss the necessary and overdue changes that must be addressed within our education system.”

Only two of nine senators on the committee supported the bill; five senators opposed it, and two chose not to vote. But, according to John Fensterwald of EdSource, Education Committee Chairwoman Carol Liu, a Democrat, granted the bill reconsideration, which gives Assemblywoman Bonilla an opportunity to amend the bill during the Senate’s recess in July to win over converts on the committee.

The bill invited intense criticism from virtually all sides of the political spectrum. Opponents of teachers’ unions generally view tenure as the primary obstacle blocking meaningful reform; the conservative media outlet Breitbart published an editorial lambasting teachers unions for again defeating education reform in California. Additionally, education reformers, as reported by East County Today, were disinclined to support the bill, which they viewed only as incremental.

California senators cited various reasons for their opposition to the bill. Sen. Bob Huff, a Republican who sponsored a similar bill in the past, said he was struggling with changes from earlier versions. Another Republican senator, Andy Vidak, said he had only now seen the most recent wording and doubted it could be improved in time this summer. Conversely, the bill had the support of mainstream education groups: the PTA, the California School Boards Association and the Association of California School Administrators.

California’s Assembly Bill 934 was the last bill this year to overturn teacher protection laws that was the subject of a contentious lawsuit, Vergara v. the State of California and the California Teachers Association. California is one of a half-dozen states that grant due-process protections, known as tenure, to new teachers after two years or less on the job. Assemblywoman Bonilla’s bill would have extended the probation period, during which tenure could be delayed without having to cite a cause, to a third year.

In other news, the California Senate passed several other important matters concerning education. Assembly Bill 2548 will give the California legislature a say in molding the new school accountability and improvement system being designed by the State Board of Education, and, by a narrow vote, another bill was approved that would ban for-profit online charter schools and those nonprofit online charter schools that are operated and suppled by a for-profit sponsor.