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Posted at 05:13 PM ET, 01/09/2012

McDonnell proposes repealing ‘Kings Dominion law,’ teacher tenure in schools plan

If Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) gets his way in 2012, teacher tenure as we know it will be a thing of the past, local school boards will be able to set their own calendars and students will be required to take one online course to graduate.

The governor announced those proposals at a Monday afternoon news conference where he outlined his legislative priorities for K-12 education.

McDonnell’s push to reduce job protections for teachers and principals is likely to draw intense resistance from the Virginia Education Association, which is already at odds with the governor over cuts to public schools in his proposed 2013-14 budget.

Currently, teachers go through a three-year probationary period and then are awarded continuing contracts — or what is often called tenure.

Doing away with continuing contracts would give administrators an opportunity to review teacher performance every year — and presumably, to offload teachers more easily.

McDonnell shrugged off the suggestion that tenure is necessary to protect academic freedom, saying that it ends up protecting bad teachers. He said his proposed changes are meant to help retain and reward high-quality, effective teachers and principals.

“This is the way most of state government works,” McDonnell said. “You perform well, you keep your job. You don’t perform well for an extended period of time, you don’t get a guarantee.”

The Virginia School Boards Association, meanwhile, praised McDonnell for supporting the repeal of the so-called Kings Dominion law, which prohibits districts from opening before Labor Day without a waiver from the state.

Two-thirds of school districts already qualify for waivers, most of them because they have a high average number of snow days each year. Northern Virginia districts generally don’t qualify for a waiver and have been clamoring for the law’s repeal for decades.

McDonnell said it was “an extremely difficult decision” to lend his support to repealing the law, which has been championed for years by Virginia’s business and tourism sectors.

It came down to believing that the state should stop saddling local governments with mandates, McDonnell said, just as the federal government should not interfere with states.

“It just respects the sovereign authority that each level of government has,” he said.

McDonnell also proposed reducing from seven to three the number of categories of diplomas available to high school students. As part of that initiative, he wants to require students seeking a standard diploma to take at least one online course before graduating.

Other key proposals:

Charter schools. McDonnell proposed establishing a technical advisory committee to help charter-school applicants develop their plans. He also wants to “clarify” the per-pupil amount that charters should receive and said details about that would be forthcoming.

Virtual schools. The governor proposed establishing an alternative licensure route for virtual-school teachers and said he wants new regulations for accrediting full-time virtual schools.

Dual enrollment. The governor wants to tweak the law to allow high school students to work toward an associate’s degree.

Literacy. Under a McDonnell proposal, school districts would be required to use certain funds to give extra help to third- and fourth-graders who are struggling to read.

Tuition tax credits. Businesses could qualify for tax credits by donating to scholarship funds for low-income kids.

Youth development. The governor proposed a pilot program to offer ninth- and 10th-graders the kinds of lessons they often don’t have time for in school: character education, leadership skills and preventative health care.

The governor’s budget also includes a number of education provisions. Details are available on his Web site.

This post has been updated.

By  |  05:13 PM ET, 01/09/2012

 
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