LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan House on Thursday approved changes to the teacher tenure system that supporters said would make it easier to remove ineffective teachers from the classroom.
A main bill in the package passed by a 70-37 vote, with some Democrats joining Republicans in support. Other votes in the four-bill package, which next goes to the Republican-led Senate, were closer.
Current Michigan law places teachers on probation for their first four school years. The House proposal would lengthen the probationary period to five years, though the period would be only three years for teachers who continuously receive high quality performance ratings.
Teachers would have to be rated as "effective" or better on the majority of their performance evaluations, including their latest evaluations, to get off probation. Tenured teachers could be placed back on probation if they are rated as "ineffective" and they could be fired if poor evaluations continue.
Tenure originated to help protect teachers from arbitrary firings and discrimination. But critics of the current system say it can delay or prevent a school district from getting rid of ineffective teachers. The changes would make high performance ratings, rather than seniority, the determining factor when layoffs or workforce reductions are made in a district.
"We want to ensure we have the best quality teachers in the classroom to give our children the best opportunity for success," said Rep. Bill Rogers, R-Brighton. "This is our opportunity to reform the system."
Some teachers have opposed the new measures, saying they could spark "witch hunts" from administrators who don't like them personally. The Michigan Education Association, the state's largest teachers' union, said the provisions would "dismantle" tenure and undermine collective bargaining of evaluation systems and other policies.
"These bills go too far and they don't fix the problem," said Rep. Marcia Hovey-Wright, D-Muskegon.
Some Democrats said the tenure policies were part of a continued effort by Republicans to attack teachers and other public employees.
Republicans also are moving ahead with provisions that require public employees, including teachers, to pay at least 20 percent of their health care premiums. Republican Gov. Rick Snyder this week signed a new law that will freeze pay and benefits for union-represented public employees including teachers working under expired contracts. That law would eliminate or freeze so-called automatic "step" increases sometimes paid by school districts regardless of contract status.
Teachers' unions also are angry about the state's most recent budget plans, which will cut public school funding in the state fiscal year beginning in October.
The teacher tenure and evaluation bills are House Bills 4625-4628.