Midnight Oil-Burning Reporters Tell Melodrama of SB 191 Committee Hearing

Last night’s House Education Committee hearing on Senate Bill 191 went really late. My mom made me go to bed, so I missed a lot of it. But my Education Policy Center friends tell me it was quite the show. And given the reports I’ve seen, I have to agree.

Kudos goes to three reporters (along with legislative staff and others) who stayed late to burn the midnight oil until the hearing ended at 12:37 AM. They have a strong case for earning overtime — if not combat — pay. Oh, the melodrama their stories just begin to tell….

First, Ed News Colorado’s Todd Engdahl:

[Committee chair Rep. Michael] Merrifield read a letter from education scholar and author Diane Ravitch, who wrote, “Colorado can’t fire its way to better teachers.”

Laurie Hirschfeld Zeller, president of A+ Denver, read a letter from former Denver Mayor Fedrico Peña, who had testified passionately at the Senate Education Committee hearing on the bill.

“I’m so sorry Federico wasn’t here because I was armed and ready for him,” Merrifield said.

The last witness, Associate Commissioner Rich Wenning of the Colorado Department of Education, took the brunt of sharp comments from committee critics but cooly defended the bill.

“We are dealing with a major systemic reform. … It’s really comparable to the Colorado Achievement Plan for Kids. … Statutes catalyze change.”

Next up, Jeremy Meyer from the Denver Post:

Questions by committee members to school superintendents, union leaders and educators showed a deep divide on the panel that must pass the legislation before it can be considered by the full House. Colorado’s Senate passed the bill last week, and Gov. Bill Ritter says he supports the bill and will sign it if it gets to his desk.

A key point of contention is how the legislation would change the state law on teacher tenure.

“This bill has nothing to do with teacher effectiveness,” said committee vice chairwoman Judy Solano, who is against the legislation. “It has to do with due process. I don’t put shades on. This has nothing about helping teachers get more effective.”

Last but not least, Debi Brazzale from the Colorado News Agency:

Jane Urschel , speaking for CASB, said that SB191 is a new opportunity for the advancement of K-12 education in Colorado and urged the panel to embrace the opportunity.

“It’s in your hands to create a new moment in Colorado’s history. You are the only leaders who can reform aspects of earning tenure,” said Urschal.

Merrifield shot back at Urschel, citing her testimony on a previous bill that he sponsored asking for mandated arts curriculum in public schools, saying that she was being hypocritical by now supporting a bill that mandates the implementation of an evaluation system.

“You were very angry and self-righteous back then about an unfunded mandate,” said Merrifield.

After all was said and done, SB 191 passed the committee by a narrow 7-6 vote — with Democrats Christine Scanlan and Karen Middleton joining all five Republicans in support. By all appearances, the landmark piece of legislation reforming how Colorado evaluates and grants tenure to public educators will be heard by the full House on Monday.

To become law, SB 191 will have to pass second and third reading, and differences will have to be ironed out between the house and senate in rather short order. Legislators must hurry and wrap things up before session ends on this coming Wednesday, May 12.