Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell’s bill to eliminate tenure-style job protections for public school teachers died Thursday at the hands of the Republican-led Senate.

After delaying a decision on the contentious bill for eight days straight, the Senate voted 23 to 17 to send it back to committee, effectively killing it for the year.

Three Republicans joined all 20 Democrats in voting to recommit the bill, which has been vigorously opposed by the Virginia Education Association.

The move was a political defeat for McDonnell, who had made overhauling teacher contracts a key part of his education agenda.

“This bill does nothing but kick teachers in the teeth,” said Sen. Philip Puckett (D-Russell), a former teacher and principal.

Virginia’s teachers currently receive “continuing contracts,” which are almost always renewed barring unusual circumstances.

The governor’s bill would replaced continuing contracts with three-year contracts. At the end of every three years, an administrator could have let a teacher go without having to give a reason.

Had the bill passed, it would have given Virginia administrators among the broadest power in the nation to remove teachers from the classroom.

Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) spoke in favor of the measure during floor debate, saying it gave principals a necessary tool to fire bad teachers — or “lemons,” as Obenshain called them.

“We have great public schools across Virginia,” he said. But “if you believe that every teacher in Virginia is a great teacher, you’re wrong.”

Obenshain urged his colleagues to vote the bill up or down, not
“send this back to committee to die.”

This is the second time this year that senators have debated this issue. The Senate narrowly rejected its own version of the bill by a 20 to 18 margin, with two Republicans — including Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. — defecting.