A bill to eliminate teachers’ tenure-style job protections will return to the floor of the Virginia Senate next week, giving Gov. Bob McDonnell (R) another chance to push through a key part of his education agenda.

State Sen. Tommy Norment ( R-James City) helped block an earlier version of a bill to eliminate teacher job protections. (Steve Helber/AP)

The Senate narrowly killed its own version of the bill last week when two Republican members, straying from the party position, refused to support it. The vote was 20-18.

The Republican-dominated House, however, passed its version with a comfortable margin. It’s that bill, H.B. 576, that is now in play.

It passed out of the Senate Health and Education Committee Thursday on an 8-7 party line vote.

The bill would replace teachers’ continuing contracts, which usually are renewed barring unusual circumstances, with three-year contracts. At the end of every three years, administrators could decide not to renew a teacher’s contract — effectively firing him or her — for any reason.

Currently, teachers on continuing contracts have the right to hear complaints about their performance and try to improve before they are dismissed.

McDonnell and his supporters have said that the changes are necessary to ensure that ineffective teachers are removed from the classroom. But the proposal has drawn intense criticism from labor leaders and their allies in the General Assembly, who say it leaves teachers vulnerable to arbitrary dismissal and will deter talented young recruits from coming to the state.

On Friday, teachers across the commonwealth wore black to protest what they said was the General Assembly’s attack on their profession.

One of the Republicans who did not support the bill previously was Sen. Thomas K. Norment Jr. (James City), who said during floor debate that his daughter, a kindergarten teacher in Williamsburg, had urged him not to “stick it to the teachers.”

It remains to be seen whether McDonnell will persuade Norment and his fellow Republican dissenter, Sen. John Watkins (Midlothian), to change their minds the second time around.

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