Earlier this session, a bill supported by education reformers who tack to the Obama agenda, got squashed in committee. The bill would have made teacher evaluations guide pending layoff decisions. A tandem bill mandated that schools on the receiving end of teacher transfers had to sign off on the deal. The bill was an attempt to end the practice of shuffling under-performing teachers from school to school.

Sens. Rodney Tom (D-48, Bellevue) and Joseph Zarelli (R-18, Ridgefield) have teamed up across party lines (though Tom is a conservative Democrat on fiscal issues) to introduce a bill that proposes similar standards.

[pullquote]"Let's stop rewarding for seat time and masters degrees," Tom says, adding that "research has shown [teachers with] masters degrees have little or no effect on students."—Sen. Rodney Tom[/pullquote]

The bill would:

•Make school districts lay off underperforming teachers first, regardless of their seniority status.
•Protect underperforming schools from being forced to hire teachers from other schools.
•Give principals the authority to fire teachers who don't show improvement after three years.
•Institute an annual bonus policy—$5,000—for high-performing teachers.
•Phase in performance pay based on each teacher's ability to help students.

It's late in the game for this bill, but with the budget taking center stage and education in the mix, the senators are likely to tag the bill as budget-related. The bill has been referred to the ways and means committee.

We have calls in to both Tom and Zarelli, and to the Washington Education Association, the teachers' union, which opposed the earlier bill.

UPDATE:

Sen. Tom says the bill is "very real" and he says he has the votes to pass it out of ways and means. (Tom was the senate sponsor of the earlier bill.)

"Let's stop rewarding for seat time and masters degrees," Tom says, adding that "research has shown [teachers with] masters degrees have little or no effect on students."

Tom explained the mechanics of the bill: It would take $735 million of the $900 million salary allocation money in the state budget and dedicate 70 percent of that to teachers who come out on top of the new four-tiered evaluation system. Currently, the money goes to reward teachers who've gone back and earned masters degrees.