House leaders Wednesday unveiled a education reform package that differs substantially from a proposal backed by Senate leadership.
House Bill 719, the Education Improvement Act of 2013, is backed by a bipartisan group of lawmakers, led by Reps. Bryan Holloway, R-Stokes, and Rick Glazier, D-Cumberland.
Earlier in the day, the Senate Education Committee approved Senate Bill 361, the Excellent Public Schools Act of 2013, authored by Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger.
Berger's proposal would eliminate teacher tenure completely in five years. Starting in 2018, administrators would be allowed to offer four-year contracts to the top 25 percent of teachers. The rest of the teachers would be on annual contracts, with no legal recourse to challenge dismissal.
The House bill takes a more moderate approach on career status for teachers, modeled on legislation in Colorado that uses a probationary/non-probationary system.
Under the House proposal, Holloway said, all teachers with tenure or career status would start out as non-probationary.
"If you perform (on yearly evaluations), you keep the non-probationary status," Holloway said. "If you have two years of back-to-back negative observations, you're kicked down to probationary."
Probationary status teachers could be fired or hired at will without recourse.
"It makes everyone stay on their toes from the day they step into the classroom," Holloway said. "If you do well, you're fine. If you have a bad year, you have a year to fix it."
Schools would not be required to fire probationary teachers. Holloway said that decision should be left up to local administrators.
"We've had a struggle for years hiring teachers in science and math," he said. "There may not be someone there waiting to take that post."
Glazier said administrators might decide to allow probationary teachers to retrain "to stay in that job and to earn their way back, if they have two years of good evaluations, to non-probationary status."
The measure would also create a stakeholders' commission, appointed by legislative leaders, that would include teachers, parents, administrators and policy makers. The commission would take up the issue of merit pay and other teacher pay issues and come back to the General Assembly with a proposal for the best way to manage them.
"We need to look at pay as a whole issue," Glazier said. "There is no way to address this singularly or piecemeal, and that's what we've been trying to do for too long."
"You've got to have buy-in from everybody to make a plan like this work, and we know other states have struggled to do this," Holloway added. "We want to do this the right way."
The proposal also recommends expanding digital technology and out-of-the-classroom learning, changes to school performance scores and grades and school improvement plans.
Holloway said he's aware his bill is very different from the Senate version.
"They have their plan," he said. "We're moving ahead with our plan. Collaboration will take place at the appropriate time."
But Berger, R-Rockingham, doesn't sound much interested in collaboration.
Asked if he thought there was room to compromise on the House proposal, particularly on the career status provision, he said, "I think what we've put in the Senate bill are things that need to be addressed in K-12 education. I think dragging our feet on some of these issues is something that's not productive in terms of improving our public schools."