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Missouri state senator files bill to eliminate teacher tenure

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Sen Emery

Missouri state Sen. Ed Emery, R-Lamar.

JEFFERSON CITY • The resounding defeat handed down by voters to a November ballot measure that would have weakened teacher tenure did not deter state Sen. Ed Emery from filing a bill that would completely eliminate it.

In fact, the vote over Amendment 3 didn’t even factor into his thought process, Emery, R-Lamar, said.

“Most groups I spoke to who opposed (Amendment 3) would have supported the teacher tenure portion of it,” Emery said, adding that it was the extra provisions people were against.

The amendment, which more than three-fourths of voters were against, would have required more than half of a teacher’s evaluation to be based on student academic outcomes. It also allowed districts to set a teacher’s pay based on how well his or her students perform.

The measure would have given districts more control over the terms of their contracts with teachers — allowing administrators to dismiss teachers more easily. It also would have prohibited districts from entering into contracts with certified staffers that exceed three years.

Emery’s bill, which he filed ahead of the 2015 legislative session that begins Jan. 7, doesn’t simply eliminate teacher tenure. It also would require districts to base a teacher’s pay on his or her students’ performance and grade individual schools, including charter schools, on the student body’s performance, creating what he calls a “three-legged stool” of education reform.

Emery said grading schools as a whole counters the fear expressed by proponents of tenure that teachers will be fired because the principal or superintendent does not like them.

“If (principals and superintendents) are not doing everything they can to retain the best teachers, their marks will go down,” Emery said. “That was an attempt to say, ‘Here’s a way to promote the best teachers.’”

Emery filed similar legislation last year, but it was never heard on the Senate floor.

Though Emery hasn’t spoken with all his Senate colleagues about the bill, he does not expect difficulty gaining support.

“I have talked to many of them, and I believe the fight is very winnable,” Emery said.

Lawmakers have failed in earlier attempts to change Missouri’s tenure laws.

Under current law, public teachers are eligible to receive tenure after five years with a school district. After teachers receive tenure, districts have to warn them if they’re deemed deficient and try to resolve any problems. To fire a teacher, districts must file written charges detailing the grounds. Teachers can request a public hearing with the school board and appeal the decision.

The bill is SB27.

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Alex Stuckey is a statehouse reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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