Legislation to establish a statewide ranking system for teachers was successfully passed by the Tennessee Senate last week, attracting ongoing national attention since its introduction a year ago. The Senate approved the "master-teacher" bill by a vote of 23 to 9. Additionally, with a narrower margin of 19 to 13, they also endorsed a one-cent increase in the state’s 4.5-percent sales tax. This tax increase is estimated to generate $281 million in new tax revenue next year, which will serve as the primary source of funding for the master-teacher plan. The plan is now officially known as a "career-teacher" system.
The version of the career-teacher bill approved by the Senate closely resembles the one previously endorsed by the legislature’s finance committees earlier this month. These bills propose the implementation of a five-tier statewide "career ladder" and require local evaluation of teachers at the first three levels. Additionally, teachers are offered the option to withdraw from the career ladder.
Observers noted that an amendment calling for a reduction in pupil-teacher ratios from 25 to 20 in grades K-3 within five years played a crucial role in gaining Senate approval. The Tennessee Education Association, which recently expressed support for the master-teacher plan, backed this amendment. As a result, several Democratic senators also lent their support to the bill. The House is expected to pass the bill this week, and Governor Lamar Alexander, the original proponent of the bill, is anticipated to sign it in a timely manner for implementation this fall.