The Senate Appropriations Committee has given Assemblymember Felipe Fuentes three days to figure out how to pay for and, if possible, mollify critics of his bill to redesign teacher evaluations.
On Thursday, the committee, chaired by Democratic Sen. Christine Kehoe of San Diego, will decide whether AB 5 moves forward with an as-yet imprecise price tag. Even critics who say the bill doesn’t go far enough – and they were out in force at the Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Monday – acknowledge that the bill would bring clarity and add substance to the vague, largely irrelevant current law known as the Stull Act. But in a year in which Gov. Jerry Brown has vowed to veto legislation costing more money, AB 5 would establish an expensive new state mandate by imposing substantial additional requirements on school districts.
Fuentes, a Democrat from the San Fernando Valley, indicated Monday that he still needed to figure out how to account for an additional $20 million to make the bill cost-neutral. But that number assumes that the approximately $40 million that the state reimburses districts now for aspects of the Stull Act and contract negotiations with teachers could be applied to the AB 5 mandate. That’s probably overstated. The $40 million to $80 million cost of AB 5 that Fuentes cited is his own ballpark estimate. A fiscal analysis of the bill by Appropriations staff didn’t give a precise figure, but did cite areas that would result in “substantial new reimbursable costs”:
- More frequent evaluations: Instead of every five years under the Stull Act, experienced teachers with previously good reviews would be evaluated every three years. Other teachers with tenure would be evaluated every other year; probationary teachers would be reviewed yearly – as under the current law.
- Multiple observations of teachers along with meetings before and after each observation. The Stull Act requires only one observation.
- Evaluator training. “A potentially substantial mandate” to train evaluators to ensure their standards for measuring performance are uniform.
- Collective bargaining. Each district would have to negotiate the criteria and procedures for the evaluations with the local teachers union, an expansion of the districts’ current obligation.
Not mentioned would be the costs for professional development for teachers who received an unsatisfactory review, or extra training for teachers rated satisfactory who need to improve certain skills, reflecting the bill’s goal of “continuous improvement for teachers,” Fuentes said.
Districts would argue these would be reimbursable costs. The commission on state mandates would have to determine how much, if any.
Would passage make NCLB waiver likely?
Fuentes told the committee that AB 5 would “put California in a stronger position” to qualify for a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law, as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is known. A waiver would potentially free up $354 million in Title I money that districts could use to pay for AB 5’s mandates and teacher professional development. But Arun Ramanathan, executive director of the Oakland-based education nonprofit Education Trust-West and an evaluator of other states’ waiver applications this year for the federal Department of Education, dismissed that claim. “AB 5, as written, is so far from qualifying for a waiver that to say otherwise is inaccurate,” he said.
The bill lacks key accountability measures that the feds are demanding, including the use of objective data, such as standardized test scores, to measure a teacher’s impact on student academic growth, and a multi-tier rating system, beyond the current satisfactory/unsatisfactory categories, to recognize levels of excellence in teaching and degrees of needed improvement.
Several advocacy groups calling for more rigorous reforms – Education Trust-West, Public Advocates, and EdVoice – agree on these points.
StudentsFirst, a nonprofit formed by former Washington, D.C., schools superintendent Michelle Rhee, which turned out several dozen parents and teachers to the hearing, went further and called explicitly for tying employment decisions to teacher evaluations.
Bhavini Bhakta, a nine-year teacher from Arcadia who said she had been given layoff notices eight straight years, even though her students’ test scores were above average, testified, “We must implement a system that links teacher staffing decisions to student performance. It would be fair, objective, and ensure that staffing decisions are made in the best interests of students.”
No one gave unqualified support for the bill. But representatives of some of Sacramento’s heavy hitters – California Teachers Association, Association of California School Administrators and California School Boards Association – said they would support the bill if several unspecified amendments were added. In its current form, AB 5 would not take effect until the state repays districts $9.2 billion for spending cuts and unpaid cost increases spelled out in Proposition 98. But that repayment could take upward of seven years, which is why Fuentes is looking for ways to implement the new system sooner at minimum expense.