The Virginia House of Delegates voted 55-43 Monday to eliminate seniority-based job protections for public school teachers, a measure pushed by Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) as part of his education reform package.

Several Republicans crossed party lines to vote with Democrats against the bill, which has drawn intense resistance from labor leaders and their allies.

Now the fight moves to the Senate, where members are likely to debate the measure Monday and vote Tuesday.

Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). (Washington Post Live)

“Here in Virginia, we are fortunate have a world-class educational system with world-class teachers. However, until we can guarantee every student in Virginia a quality education, our work is not done.”

Currently, Virginia teachers spend three years on probation and then receive “continuing contracts,” which are almost always renewed barring exceptional circumstances.

Under H.B. 576 and S.B. 438, probation would be extended to five years and continuing contracts would be replaced with three-year contracts.

At the end of every three years, a teacher could be let go for poor performance or any reason at all.

The new rules would apply to teachers currently in their first year and those hired in the future. Teachers with more time in the job would be allowed to retain their continuing contracts.

Majority leader Kirkland Cox (R-Chesterfield) spoke in favor of the measure on the House floor Monday.

A high school teacher by trade, Cox offered tales of colleagues who used the same tired lesson plans year after year and couldn’t get control of their classrooms.

“We’re kidding ourselves if we don’t think there aren’t mediocre teachers and bad teachers,” he said. “We are naive if we think public education is perfect.”

Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) said Republicans who are criticizing Virginia’s teachers have been all too happy to defend the state’s schools as excellent during recent debates over how much to spend on K-12 education.

Since 2008, the General Assembly has cut more than a billion dollars for schools from the biennial budget, according to the Virginia Education Association. Democrats are pushing for a more generous state contribution.

“When we’re talking about funding education we’re doing just fine,” Plum said, “and now when we’re talking about teachers, suddenly things aren’t going so well.”

A wave of states seeking to improve teacher quality have chipped away at tenure protections in recent years. Some have made tenure more difficult to earn; others have made it easier to lose.

Virginia’s tack eliminates tenure altogether, giving administrators the power to recommend that a teacher’s contract not be renewed without having to provide a cause. That goes too far, critics say, and leaves teachers vulnerable to losing their jobs for no good reason.

“We don’t want an incompetent teacher in the classroom — no one does,” said Dennis Van Roekel, president of the National Education Association. “But we also don’t want good teachers to be eliminated arbitrarily.”

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Virginia lawmakers debate teacher tenure