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MI Lawmakers, Special Interests Battle over Opposing Teacher Tenure Bills

June 28, 2011

LANSING, Mich. - Teacher tenure in Michigan could dramatically change under House bills that could get a vote this week, even as the state Senate works on its own bill. And there are big differences between them. The House proposal would change teachers' rights during collective bargaining. The Senate bill focuses on smaller changes, like moving the process for dismissing a teacher from the state to the local level.

Spokesman Doug Pratt says the Michigan Education Association (MEA) supports the Senate bill. They believe it could save money by assigning a local arbitrator when there are questions about a teacher's performance.

"It actually focuses on the issues that people constantly refer to with tenure, and that is the time and the cost it takes to get rid of an ineffective teacher. We think that we need to focus on the real issues here, and that's what we're trying to do with this."

The House bills extend the period for gaining tenure from four years to five, and allow the firing of teachers if they are rated ineffective at least twice during that five-year period.

Pratt sees that as "an assault" on due process and collective bargaining rights. But supporters say it puts more emphasis on the pupils, the learning environment and standardized measurements to identify successful schools and teachers.

Pratt says MEA has endorsed the idea of tenure reform, but believes the House version complicates such issues as collective bargaining and basic protections for tenured teachers. He believes it could end up costing districts more money.

"The House bills make it illegal to negotiate about evaluations, placement, seniority. It takes away 'reasonable and just cause' as a provision - so, when you fire a teacher, you don't actually have to go back and prove that it has anything to do with their job performance."

The House bills are awaiting a Senate vote, and the Senate bill is still in committee.

House bills are a package, HB 4625 through 4628; Senate bill is SB 503.

Amy Miller/Mike Clifford, Public News Service - MI