Only days before the start of a special legislative session on education reform, Gov. Phil Bredesen appears to be waffling on a key point of disagreement with the teachers’ union.
Bredesen has called the special session beginning Tuesday to consider an agenda that includes mandating the use of student achievement scores in evaluating teachers and principals and in deciding tenure. When he announced the session last month, he said the weight given to the state's value-added scores in evaluations "would have to be 50 percent or north to really engage the issues."
But on a statewide tour this week to tout his legislation, the governor has equivocated, saying the state school board should decide the issue and insisting he never intended to suggest a firm number should be placed in the law.
“First of all, 50 is not my number,” Bredesen told reporters in Memphis when asked about his main sticking point with the Tennessee Education Association. “What I think should happen is that the school board should have the ability to design a system the way they think it would work best. …
“It might be 50. It might be 30. I don’t know. … There’s an awful lot of pressure from the TEA to put something specific in the law. I suppose it’s probably fair to say they’d love to see 10, which in my mind wouldn’t do it. It wouldn’t do it at all. And we may in fact end up with some specific number in the legislation and, if that were the case, 50 I guess would be OK. I still think a much better solution would be to give the school board that flexibility.”
The governor has been negotiating with the TEA, whose support is crucial to passage. Asked about Bredesen’s latest remarks, TEA lobbyist Jerry Winters said, “I’m glad to hear that the governor is more flexible on that percentage. That’s been part of what we’ve been proposing all along, that there be more flexibility. We’ve said all along that student achievement data could be part of the process. The debate has been around how much.”
But Winters said the TEA would oppose turning over the issue to the state school board. Mostly businessmen, the board is appointed by the governor.
“I would hope that we could find a way that we could come up with a whole new evaluation system,” Winters said, “letting professionals decide something based on research and not just pulling something out of the air. We would not want to give the board of education a blank check.”
Bredesen has given the legislature only one week to enact reforms, contending hundreds of millions of dollars in the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition are at stake.
Also in Memphis, the governor expressed confidence he will succeed in the special session. But he may have overstated the support of one key legislator — House Democratic caucus chairman Mike Turner.
Describing Turner as “very supportive of employee unions,” Bredesen said, “Mike’s totally for this. He’s helping us pushing it forward.”
Asked whether Bredesen accurately stated his level of support, Turner said, “Mike Turner is totally for working this thing out where we can get the federal money and make everybody happy. That’s what I think the governor meant by that.”