SB 105's Death Proves Colorado Can Stand on Its Own

It’s Friday again, friends. Fortunately, I have good news to share after Monday’s depressing post about Justice Scalia’s passing and what it means for education. One of the “abominable snowbills” I wrote about a few weeks ago has died—and died rather spectacularly—in the Senate Education Committee.

From a previous post:

Senate Bill 105, which is being supported by a “bipartisan” group of senators that makes me feel like I’ve fallen into Bizzaro World, forgoes any pretense and just murders SB 191 entirely. It removes the 50 percent requirement for student growth in educator evaluations, forbids school districts from using student growth in evaluations in any amount exceeding 20 percent (an apparently arbitrary number that flies in the face of the research on the subject), and makes so local school boards can allow teachers and principals with effective or better ratings to pass on evaluations for up to three years…

Most of you probably remember that I didn’t much care for those changes, arguing that they would return us to the days when nearly every teacher was rated effective year after year and essentially destroy tenure reform, pay-for-performance systems, and even the basic practice of evaluating teachers annually. My policy friend Ross Izard felt the same (surprise, surprise), and sent a letter to the Senate Education Committee stating:

With the importance of teachers in mind, we believe that educators deserve to be treated like professionals through meaningful performance evaluations, taxpayers deserve accountability in how their education dollars are spent, and every child in Colorado deserves to be taught by a truly effective teacher. Senate Bill 105 represents a dangerous shift away from these goals…

…Put simply, Senate Bill 105 stands to serve the interests of the teachers union rather than those of students, parents, and educators. It represents a radical rollback of tenure reform and accountability in education, and has the potential to severely damage pay-for-performance systems and collective bargaining reform efforts across the state. More importantly, it hurts students by making it more difficult to ensure that every child has a truly effective teacher.

While SB 105 initially had bipartisan sponsorship—including five of the nine members of Senate Education—the bill’s Republican support disintegrated before the committee vote. Two of the bill’s Republican sponsors pulled their support and voted No during the committee hearing. The bill failed on a 6-3 vote that included every Republican member of the committee and Democratic Senator Mike Johnston, who was the original architect of SB 191.

Chalkbeat was quick to insinuate that the bill’s failure with Republicans was due to the fact that “some conservative interest groups like the Independence Institute opposed the bill.” I can neither confirm nor deny this claim, though it shouldn’t be surprising that the Independence Institute and other conservative groups would strongly oppose any rollback of tenure reform or accountability in education.

While many groups—and particularly the teachers union and its allies—will be quick to spin this as a political coup, I see it as quite the opposite. The effort against SB 105 was a bipartisan push against union interests by folks who very much care about making sure that there is an effective teacher in every Colorado classroom. I, for one, applaud the committee’s conservatives for standing their ground on the importance of strong evaluations in the face of union resistance. And I commend Senator Mike Johnston for once again voting for principle over politics.

Most of all, though, I will spend this fine Friday celebrating the fact that Colorado won this victory for kids all by itself. After the passage of ESSA, there is no longer any federal agreement (or bucket of incentive money) to make Colorado feel obligated to maintain strong evaluations and accountability systems. It’s completely up to us to do the right thing simply because it’s the right thing.

Colorado did exactly that with the defeat of SB 105. The death of this abominable snowbill proved that we don’t need federal involvement to drive or defend meaningful education reform. We can stand on our own two feet, and I hope we continue to do so in the battles to come.