State lawmakers on Wednesday once again failed to amend teacher tenure laws, this time rejecting a bill that would have extended the probationary period from two to three years — even after the bill was stripped of its boldest language.
The bill, AB 934, sponsored by Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla, D-Concord, was defeated 5-2, with two senators abstaining, in the state Senate Education Committee. It drew the opposition of powerful teachers unions — the California Teachers Association and the California Federation of Teachers — and education reformers, two sides that seldom agree.
The teachers unions said the bill went too far in taking away teachers’ due process rights, while the reform advocates said the bill didn’t go far enough in making teacher tenure an earned benchmark.
The bill was conceived to address some of the concerns about the state of education in California that were raised in the landmark lawsuit Vergara v. California, which was overturned on appeal in April, and to bring about “the necessary and overdue changes that must be addressed within our education system,” a statement from Bonilla’s office said.
“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,” Bonilla said in the statement.
Students Matter, which filed the Vergara lawsuit on behalf of nine students, initially had supported the bill, but the version that was voted on by the committee was heavily amended and Students Matter withdrew its support last week.
Ben Austin, the group’s policy and advocacy director, called the bill “watered down and gutted beyond recognition.”
The issue of teacher tenure was the crux of the Vergara lawsuit. Plaintiff attorneys argued that teacher protection laws perpetuate a cycle of keeping ineffective teachers in low-income classrooms.
Bonilla, a former high school English teacher, said the amendments to the bill, AB 934, were needed to give it a chance of passage.
Other provisions in the bill included more training for new administrators and an additional year of coaching and mentoring for teachers in their third year of teaching.
The bill would have also authorized school districts and local unions to negotiate dismissal procedures.
Bonilla said the current dismissal process takes about seven months and typically costs districts $100,000 to $200,000.