State House poised for heated teacher tenure debate

The Republican-controlled Minnesota House is set to take action on legislation that would change teacher tenure protections.

A vote is scheduled Thursday afternoon on the Republican-backed bill, which would require public school districts to negotiate local policies for layoffs and other staffing decisions that emphasize a teacher’s performance over seniority. It would end the practice known as “last in, first out.”

The bill (HF 2) is among the top priorities that House Republicans rolled out at the beginning of the 2015 session. It’s expected to be the session’s first contentious and potentially lengthy floor debate.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the bill is a priority because his caucus wants to make sure every student gets a world-class education.

“Those just aren’t words. We mean it,” Daudt said. “We think this is a small step in that direction, but an important step.”

The bill also directs the Board of Teaching to speed up the licensing of out-of state teachers to work in Minnesota and allows school districts to hire non-licensed community experts for some vacancies.

Daudt said he’s heard frequently from school officials who are dealing with teacher shortages. He insisted the bill would not push another state mandate on schools.

“We’re going to give them the flexibility to negotiate something other than seniority, and we’re going to make sure that there are other things that are looked at,” he said. “This is not us stepping in and taking over, not at all.”

Many Democrats oppose the bill.

House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, said he doesn’t think the GOP plan would ensure that the best teachers are in classrooms.

“They’re proposing a lot of changes that are going to let a lot of unqualified teachers into the classroom, and I just don’t think that’s the direction Minnesotans want us to go,” Thissen said.

House Democrats have several proposed amendments lined up.

The statewide teachers union Education Minnesota strongly opposes the bill. DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed a similar GOP measure in 2012.

Dayton and Senate Democrats are pushing other education priorities this session.

  • John Cirilli

    Teacher tenure isn’t just an archaic form of actual job security: it’s a protection of academic freedom against arbitrary firing. I agree that anyone spectacularly failing rigorous and FAIR objective measurements agreed to by all parties should perhaps be fired, but within that context there is no valid reason to lose seniority.

    • Peter Tobias

      “anyone spectacularly failing rigorous and FAIR objective measurements agreed to by all parties should perhaps be fired” – SPECTACULAR failures PERHAPS fired? You add so many qualifiers to assure that nothing gets done.

  • Hugh Shakeshaft

    Correct me if I am wrong, but tenure was first established for university professors to protect them from being fired for controversial speech or controversial research, the sort of work that upsets the establishment, work that is at the vanguard of a given field. I am confused as to how tenure, in its original sense, applies to secondary and elementary teachers at public schools. Seems like a stretch to me.

    • Sue

      In response to Hugh. Have you ever lost your job because your boss doesn’t like you? Have you ever lost your job because your too high on the pay scale? Should we loss our jobs because we’re great teachers? Should we lose our jobs because we teach the low level class where the kids are already several grades behind than the grade their in?

    • Peter Tobias

      Hugh, the name is the same, but the purpose different: not protecting expression but job security. As other people, teachers don’t like to get laid off or fired.

  • John Cirilli

    To Hugh: I can’t think of any reason academic freedom shouldn’t be important for secondary and elementary education as well as for post-secondary.

    To Peter: Fair call, that was a lot of qualifiers, but I’m honestly not sure firing someone for any particular failure in a job is necessarily the best action: some remedial training may be best. And this actually brings up the unspoken issue here: I think much of the real drive here is a desire of many to make it easier to fire people (and do other things) at the administrator’s discretion. Do anti-tenure and “right to work”/anti-union positions tend to flock together? I honestly don’t know. Can anyone illuminate?