The Senate approved Gov. Bill Haslam’s tenure reform legislation Thursday on a 21-12 vote, moving a key part of the governor’s legislative agenda forward.
The bill was heavily debated, with Democrats expressing deep concerns, particularly over whether the state’s evaluation system for teachers is equipped for such a substantive change. Sen. Douglas Henry, D-Nashville, was the only Democrat to vote in favor of the bill. All Republicans in the Senate voted for it.
“I’ve said all along I think it’s an important piece for what we’re trying to do with education in Tennessee, so I’m thrilled to see it take one more step,” Haslam said Thursday.
The governor said he did not think the process had been rushed, as has been alleged by many Democrats.
“The concept of tenure is not something that’s new to folks, and how we’re going to work it and use the evaluation process, I think, again is something that has a lot of feedback and input,” Haslam said. “Remember, we have two more years to get that evaluation process right before it impacts anybody’s tenure.”
The bill calls for revamping the teacher tenure process by changing the probationary period that teachers have to complete to become eligible for tenure from three years to five years. Even after achieving tenure, a teacher could be returned to probationary status.
A teacher who is returned to probationary status would have to be evaluated for two consecutive years at a level “above expectations” or “significantly above expectations” to keep tenure. The legislation would not affect teachers who already have tenure.