JEFFERSON CITY - The Missouri Senate rejected an effort Tuesday to eliminate the state teacher tenure system.
The Senate voted 17-15 to keep the state's current system for employing and evaluating teachers by approving an amendment to block a bill from Sen. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County.
Cunningham's measure would have completely eliminated the current tenure system and allowed local school districts to establish their own systems for teacher pay.
"People want to have reform and we can't just walk away from this," Cunningham said.
Senate Education Committee Chairman David Pearce, R-Warrensburg, offered the amendment which eliminated all of Cunningham's bill and established a task force to study teacher pay going forward.
Pearce said the process to eliminate tenure was moving too fast and needed more consideration than Tuesday's debate on the Senate floor.
"This has long term ramifications for the future of Missouri," Pearce said.
Cunningham said she was "surprised" by the vote and described it as "terribly disappointing."
"The colleagues in the Senate put government employees ahead of students," Cunningham said when asked about the vote.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Dempsey, R-St. Charles, voted against Pearce's amendment and said it was time for the Senate to take a stand.
"I think its time that we address the policy instead of creating another commission that is going to create another study that is going to sit on a shelf and put this off. Let's take action," Dempsey said.
Every Democrat except for Sen. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, D-St. Louis County, voted in favor of keeping the teacher tenure system intact. Chappelle-Nadal also led an effort to cap the pay for school administrator's at two-and-a-half times the average teacher salary in a school district.
"All I am asking for is accountability," said Chappelle-Nadal, who also serves as a school board member for University City.
Chappelle-Nadal withdrew her proposed pay cap after opposition from conservative Republicans, although Cunningham said the issue deserves more consideration.
The vote to maintain Missouri's current tenure system comes one day after the Senate punted on an attempt to address the unaccredited school district in St. Louis. On Monday, the Senate failed to take a vote on a plan sponsored by Sen. Jim Lembke, R-St. Louis County, to allow county schools to reject students from St. Louis City. Missouri law currently allows students living in an unaccredited district to transfer to accredited schools in the surrounding area.
This so-called "Turner fix" (named after a Supreme Court decision reaffirming the student transfer law) has been cited as a major education issue by legislative leaders.
After the Senate voted to keep the current tenure, Cunningham laid her bill over and the Senate did not vote on the final measure creating the task force to study teacher compensation.
Cunningham said the issue was too important to not address and the Senate "needs to get back at it."