NASHVILLE-A Hamilton County lawmaker warned House colleagues Thursday that Gov. Bill Haslam's plan to make teacher tenure protections tougher to achieve and keep could lead to future teacher shortages.
But despite the assertions by Rep. JoAnne Favors, D-Chattanooga, House majority Republicans pushed the bill through on a 65-32 vote. One Democrat, Rep. John DeBerry, of Memphis, crossed party lines to vote with them.
The bill now goes back to the Senate, where Republican senators are expected to agree on a minor House change to the bill they themselves passed along largely partisan lines earlier this month.
The proposal from Republican Haslam extends from three to five years the amount of time it takes for teachers to obtain tenure.
Teachers also would have to land in the top two ranks of a five-tiered evaluation system during their fourth and fifth years before getting tenure. They could find themselves on probationary status if their evaluations fall into the bottom two rankings for two consecutive years.
Currently tenured teachers would not be affected. However, the bill adds poor evaluations to the list of factors that can get a tenured teacher dismissed.
Favors, a registered nurse and former teacher, said stretching tenure from three years to five was "absurd."
"I believe there's going to be a shortage of teachers in the next five years," she said. "We will be very, very sorry for what we have done. The governor does not have to wait five years for re-election. We don't have to wait five years. That is absurd to even have that there."
But Rep. Bill Dunn, R-Knoxville, who handled the bill, countered that the changes are necessary, noting tenure today means "all you have to do is have three years and a heartbeat and you're in, and there's no incentive to keep improving."
He dismissed concerns that Haslam's requirements for tenure would exclude teachers who fall into the third tier - "meets expectations" - from qualifying. He also disagreed with questions about whether state pay will keep up with increased demands on teachers.
"I hope people are not going into the teaching profession to get tenure," Dunn said. "I hope they're getting into it to educate our children, to make a difference in their lives."
Many teachers would say "tenure is not first on their priority list," he said. "It's being with children and seeing that light bulb go off over their head. That's where they get their reward."
Debate largely revolved around efforts by Democrats to delay tying student performance to tenure for at least a year until all tests used in evaluations can be put in place. In a number of areas ranging from prekindergarten to second grade and physical education, tests are not ready, critics said.
As a result, teachers' evaluations will depend on overall school performance, they said.
"We're just getting this cart before the horse," said House Minority Leader Craig Fitzhugh, D-Ripley. "We need to see this evaluation system before we adopt a major revision in our tenure system."
Tennessee Education Association chief lobbyist Jerry Winters said that, while the 52,000-member organization raised concerns about implementation of the bill, "the TEA did not completely oppose it."
"I hope we have proven to our critics that we're not always trying to defend the status quo," Winters said. "We've kept an open mind on changes to the tenure law and we've not resisted all of those changes."
But efforts by Senate Republican leaders and some House Republicans to repeal teachers' collective bargaining rights might turn off some younger adults who are considering teaching as a career, he said.
"If I was a student out there thinking about becoming a teacher, I would say, 'Do I really want to do this in such an environment?'" he said. "I think the Legislature has a responsibility to think about that. We don't need to be discouraging young people from going into the profession."