Va. Senate kills McDonnell-backed teacher tenure bill

A significant piece of Gov. Bob McDonnell’s 2012 education agenda died at the hands of the Virginia Senate Thursday as the body voted 23-17 to send a bill that would make it easier to fire new teachers and principals back to committee, killing it for the year.

Teachers spend three years on probationary status and then are eligible for continuing contracts, more commonly referred to as tenure. The bill from Delegate Richard P. “Dickie” Bell, Staunton Republican, would increase the probationary period to five years for new teachers and principals starting in the 2013-14 school year, after which they would be eligible for three-year term contracts.

In a statement, Mr. McDonnell said the Thursday vote was a “delay, not a defeat,” and that his office would continue to strongly advocate for the legislation in the future.

“Increased accountability in our public education system and in government in general is an idea whose time has come,” he said. “Virginia may have missed this opportunity today, but it will be an opportunity delayed, not denied.”

Sen. Emmett W. Hanger Jr., Augusta Republican, made the motion to send it back to committee, saying that no harm would be done because the bill wasn’t to take effect until July 2013 anyway.

But Sen. Mark D. Obenshain, Harrisonburg Republican, urged his colleagues to take a straight up-or-down vote on the bill.

“Ninety-nine-plus percent of the teachers in the commonwealth of Virginia do an outstanding job,” he said. “[But] if you believe that every teacher in Virginia is a good teacher, you’re wrong.”

Sen. Phillip P. Puckett, Russell Democrat and a former teacher and elementary school principal, chastised Mr. Obenshain’s use of the term “lemon” to describe an ineffective teacher.

“I’m appalled at what I’ve heard on the floor of the Senate here,” he said. “It’s time we quit degrading the profession of the teacher.”

Kitty Boitnott, president of the Virginia Education Association, called the vote “a victory for public educators and students.”

“Virginia has much work to do to make sure the best teachers are in front of students across the state,” she said. “But this bill would have had the opposite effect — it would have made it easier to arbitrarily fire teachers while doing little to enhance the support all teachers need to be successful.”

The Senate had already killed its own version of the legislation earlier in the year on a 20-18 vote. Two Republican senators — Thomas K. Norment Jr., James City Republican, and John C. Watkins, Powhatan Republican, did not vote then. Mr. Watkins is married to a teacher, and Mr. Norment’s daughter is a teacher.

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