JUNEAU — A bill extending the amount of time a teacher must work in order to be eligible for tenure passed the Alaska House on Thursday after a long, heated debate.
HB162, by Rep. Tammie Wilson, was amended on the floor to require that teachers in urban schools work in the same district continuously for five full school years to gain tenure. Teachers in rural districts would be eligible for tenure after three years.
Currently, teachers who work for three continuous years or accept a contract for four consecutive years can get tenure.
Wilson, who had initially proposed a five-year work requirement for all teachers, said she’s received support from a handful of superintendents throughout the state.
By increasing the number of non-tenured teachers in a district, the North Pole Republican says her bill would give school districts more latitude when they must lay off teachers. Many majority caucus members argue that rather than threaten the job security of Alaska’s best teachers, this measure will help protect them by increasing the pool of people that can be laid off.
“This is definitely not an attack on teachers,” Rep. Shelley Hughes, R-Palmer, said during the floor debate. “My job here in this body is not to protect the teaching profession. My job here is to ensure that children get the best education possible.”
Supporters also argue that those two extra years give a teacher a chance to further hone their skills before the district has to decide whether to offer them tenure. The district can also use those two years to better gauge a teacher’s potential.
HB162 passed 28-10. It now goes to the Senate, with just days left in the regular session.
Rep. Bob Herron, D-Bethel, proposed the change to allow teachers in rural districts to remain eligible for tenure after three years. Supporters hope this will help rural Alaska — which already suffers from a high rate of teacher turnover — recruit and retain more people.
The amendment passed 20-15, but was strongly opposed by Reps. Bob Lynn and Mia Costello, who said it creates a double standard for Alaska’s teachers and discriminates against those who work in rural areas. Both voted against the bill because of the amendment.
Other opponents of the bill say that when combined with the fact that teacher salaries are falling in real dollars and that educators don’t get a defined pension plan, Alaska would become an unattractive choice for young teachers deciding where to begin their careers.
Rep. Andy Josephson, D-Anchorage, said that term tenure itself does teachers a disservice. He said it is better described as just-cause job protection to make sure teachers have due process rights if they are to be fired.
Things got particularly testy when the minority Democrats proposed their own amendment to increase the amount of funding per student for Alaska’s education system.
House Rules Chairman Craig Johnson tabled the amendment, a rare tactic that forces a vote without debate.
“I know that my side in this group is outnumbered,” said Rep. Les Gara, D-Anchorage, who supported the amendment. “We can be outvoted on everything we want to do on procedural grounds. But we’re not like Congress, and the tradition of this House has been very respectful.”