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Senators’ Silence Dooms Teacher Evaluation Bill

Samantha Oltman | May 2, 2013

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To the surprise of almost no one, a bill that sought to make changes to California rules on how to evaluate teachers failed to pass the Senate Committee on Education during its second-chance hearing Wednesday.

What was particularly notable about the bill’s failure was the absence of the majority of the Committee’s members during the hearing and the vote.

Last week, the members had deadlocked 4-4 on the legislation, dubbed SB 441, with one abstention. This week, only three out of nine senators — Senators Mark Wyland (R-Carlsbad), Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar), and Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) — voted “yes.”

The other six members of the Committee sat silently when their names were called. (Watch video of the roll call here, around the 2:59 time mark.)

The bill’s defeat comes as disappointing news to the bill’s supporters, which included education reform group StudentsFirst and LAUSD Superintendent John Deasy, who has been pushing to improve the teacher evaluation system in LAUSD.

Deasy had sent a letter to SB 441’s sponsor, Ron Calderon (D-Montebello), expressing his support for the bill on April 17: “This bill will allow us to continue making refinements on the work we have been engaged in over the last four years and build upon the successes we have experienced,” Deasy wrote. (Read the full letter here.)

The news was no doubt welcomed by the California Teachers Association (CTA), which had opposed the evaluation bill from the start and had urged the Education Committee to reject it.

The Senators’ reticence to take a position might seem like an unwise political choice, given the backlash some State Assemblymembers received last year when they abstained from voting on a bill that proposed streamlining the firing process for teachers accused of sexual and physical abuse. (Read LA School Report’s coverage of that bill and the political fallout here.)

Even before yesterday’s showdown, the bill’s advocates were doing their best to make things uncomfortable for waffling lawmakers looking for an easy way out.

For example, Senator Marty Block (D-San Diego) was confronted in Sacramento earlier this week by parents and StudentsFirst members who wanted to know why he didn’t cast a vote last Wednesday during SB 441’s first hearing:

Block scrambled to explain how abstaining is not the same thing as not taking a position. Watch video footage of the confrontation here:

“I don’t think I’m going to vote on this bill. If this bill passes, I’m not going to be unhappy about that,” Block told them in the videotaped encounter. “There are members who could vote for it. I’m in a peculiar position because I’ve got another bill that is, in a way, competing with this bill. And I think, frankly, that it might be a better bill,” he said.

Block told the constituents he did not plan to vote on the evaluation bill Wednesday, and he stayed true to his word. Five other senators who abstained from yesterday’s vote had previously voted for or against the legislation just a week before.

In a statement to LA School Report, StudentsFirst spokesperson Jessica Ng wrote, “In failing to vote on SB 441, six California legislators ignored the will of their constituents and instead put adult interests ahead of student interests.”

Ng pointed to the CTA, the main opponent of the bill, when she wrote, “Yet again, the outsized influence of Sacramento’s special-interest groups have blocked reforms that would help improve our schools – and California’s students are the ones who will suffer as a result.”

LA School Report reached out to the CTA for comment on the bill’s failure. We’ll update you when we hear back from them.

Previous posts: Senators Absent for Teacher Evaluation Hearing; Committee Deadlocks on Teacher Evaluation Bill; Richard Bloom Criticizes Betsy Butler For SB 1530 Vote

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