Originally created 02/11/00

House OKs education reform bill



ATLANTA - Gov. Roy Barnes won a legislative victory Thursday with the overwhelming passage in the House of his education reform proposal with the addition of no amendments.

"This is a controversial bill because it is bold," Mr. Barnes said after the vote. "Anytime you have that, any time you attack the education bureaucracy and you say, `Listen, we have to do things differently,' you have a fight to the very end. And this will continue to be a fight."

Members of both parties attempted to change the bill Thursday, with 15 amendments eventually falling to defeat. When the Democrats lost the first procedural vote on the education-reform bill, it gave an indication the House vote could have been closer than the final 131-40 tally.

Although Democrats hold a commanding majority in the House, a vote to limit legislators during the debate on the 150-page bill to 10 minutes failed 73-74.

The sweeping bill, which now goes to the Senate, would set up a system to test pupils. Teachers and principals would be held accountable for the results. It would remove tenure for new teachers.

The measure also would hold parents accountable by allowing school boards to ask judges to fine parents who miss meetings with teachers. At the same time, it would give parents more power by setting up seven-member councils at each school made up of parents, educators and employers, which would offer advice to the local school board.

Science, math and special-education teachers would get higher salaries to help recruiting for those hardto-fill jobs. Plus, teachers could get as much as $2,000 in annual bonuses if their schools earn top grades.

Republicans offered amendments that would have created private-school vouchers, ended social promotion, authorized Bible history elective classes and kept control of school accountability under the authority of GOP Superintendent Linda Schrenko.

"Education reform doesn't belong to the governor. He's worked hard on it. A lot of other people have worked hard on it," said House Minority Leader Bob Irvin, R-Atlanta. "It belongs to the people of this state."

Some Democrats also offered amendments to preserve tenure and to let local school systems use paraprofessionals during the next two years to maintain class size.

Several legislators stressed the importance of Thursday's vote.

"In a legislative career that now numbers in its 28th year, I can count on one hand those votes that were truly important," said House Majority Leader Larry Walker, D-Perry. He said the education bill ranked above his votes on creation of the Martin Luther King holiday, the Equal Rights Amendment and the Quality Basic Education Act.

The most controversial aspect of the bill, removing tenure for new teachers, failed to stir much debate Thursday or draw many votes for two amendments that would have maintained limited job protections. One amendment lost 37-134 and the other fell 29-147.

Mr. Barnes, however, said he wasn't surprised by the reaction to tenure after his repeated discussions with legislators.

"We worked tenure," Mr. Barnes said.

One group of legislators that had argued for tenure, black legislators, eventually voted for the bill.

"The biggest change in this vote was the African-Americans," said Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, who is black and is chairman of the Rules Committee.

Legislators who voted against the bill cited limited time to talk with local educators about the latest version, which was stretched by 26 pages days before Thursday's vote.

"It is hard for me to be brave (and vote for the bill as requested) when I have gotten 600-something calls saying to vote against it," said Rep. Mike Snow, DChickamauga, who said local superintendents have complained the bill will push local taxes higher. "I don't think I need them to lay that at our feet."

Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or mnews@mindspring.com.



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