A bill that would significantly change educator employment laws took a major step forward Wednesday, dodging an attempt by some lawmakers to add controversial provisions on performance pay for teachers.
The Senate passed SB64 on Wednesday by 26-2, meaning it goes to the House for consideration. The bill would require administrators to undergo annual evaluations based on student academic progress, leadership skills, ability to complete teacher evaluations and other areas to be decided by a local school board. It would also eventually tie at least 15 percent of their pay to performance.
It would also establish four new performance categories for all school employees, including teachers, based on annual evaluations. Those who receive low ratings would not get scheduled raises. Those who get poor performance ratings twice in three years could be fired. And when teachers perform poorly, administrators would have up to 120 days to either remediate them or make employment decisions.
Sen. Aaron Osmond, R-South Jordan, spent months working with education groups and meeting with educators to craft the bill, which has support from the state school board, the Utah Education Association, the Utah PTA, the state's business communities, the Governor's Education Excellence Commission and the Utah School Boards Association.
Osmond said Wednesday he knows "there is anxiety and concern from some members of the body that this may not go far enough, but I think we have to recognize this has a significant number of very positive and impactful changes."
Those concerns surfaced on the floor Wednesday when Sen. Stuart Adams, R-Layton, attempted to amend the bill to require districts to pay teachers based on performance, measured mostly by student learning growth or achievement.
Adams is running a separate bill, SB67, seeking to implement performance pay for teachers. The UEA has opposed that bill for a number of reasons, including that research doesn't support performance pay as a way to improve student achievement, not all educators teach tested subjects, and it doesn't take teacher collaboration into account.
Sen. Mark Madsen, R-Eagle Mountain, spoke in favor of the move to add teacher performance pay to the bill, saying he believes the current system of paying teachers based on experience and educational attainment is "totally inadequate."
He said he understands why the "teachers union and public education establishment" oppose the change because, "it puts at risk their cozy situation right now, but I think that's healthy."
Others, however, spoke against the change, saying it would undo the months of work and compromise that led to Osmond's proposal.
"I would prefer to keep these small tracks and keep it going than to take a large leap and, at that point, lose the support I think you've garnered from public education," Sen. Lyle Hillyard, R-Logan, said of Osmond and his proposal.
The attempt to amend the bill failed 11-17. Ultimately, the bill passed with just a few changes, including one that took out a short-lived proposal to bar charter school leaders from hiring relatives, a measure Osmond said deserves separate, future discussion.
Osmond also inserted changes making it clear that district committees of teachers, parents and administrators could create their own teacher evaluation programs and requiring teacher evaluations be based partly on student achievement if measures of student learning growth are unavailable.