JEFFERSON CITY — Supporters of eliminating teacher tenure and allowing early voting submitted thousands of signatures Sunday to get the separate constitutional amendments on the November ballot, ahead of this weekend's deadline.
Teach Great, the group supporting the proposal to eliminate tenure and base teacher employment on student achievement, said it turned in more than 275,000 signatures to the secretary of state's office.
Attorney Matt Dameron, who submitted the early voting proposal, said backers gathered about 300,000 signatures. It would allow a six-week voting period and require some polling places to be open on Saturday and Sunday for the final 21 days before federal or state elections.
The teacher initiative campaign has been financed by retired investor and political activist Rex Sinquefield, who has tried unsuccessfully to advance similar ideas in the Legislature.
It would end tenure protections for teachers and some other school staff by limiting their contracts to three years. Starting in July 2015, all public school districts would need to adopt evaluation standards that rely on "quantifiable student performance data" to guide decisions on promoting, demoting, firing and paying personnel.
"We want the teachers who do a good job to stay as teachers," said the group's attorney, Marc Ellinger. "We don't want to see teachers that have just been there a long time be rewarded simply for duration."
A lobbyist for the Missouri State Teachers Association said preparations are underway to oppose the ballot measure. Mike Wood contends the proposal would cause teachers and students to spend more time preparing for tests and less time learning in the classroom. He added that it could cost public schools millions of dollars to implement the new standards.
Before the signatures were submitted, both ballot measures drew discussion and controversy in the Legislature.
Several lawmakers called for the resignation of Education Commissioner Chris Nicastro after emails revealed she met with an advocate of the tenure initiative, suggested specific wording and reviewed a final draft.
The Republican-led Legislature is working to put a competing early voting plan on the ballot. The backer of the initiative petition called that proposal a "sham" because it would only allow nine days of early voting and prohibit it on Sundays.
"This discussion is about people having more time and more access to the fundamental right to vote," said Lara Granich, director of Missouri Jobs With Justice.
Missouri law states that if conflicting constitutional amendments pass at the same election, the measure receiving the largest affirmative vote takes effect.
Supporters of the Legislature's plan argue the petition would put a financial strain on local election authorities by requiring poll workers on Sunday. Missouri residents currently can cast absentee ballots under limited circumstances, such as if they will be out of town on Election Day.
For constitutional amendments to make the ballot, organizers need signatures equal to 8 percent of the votes cast in the 2012 governor's election from six of Missouri's eight congressional districts. That would be roughly 160,000 signatures, depending on the congressional districts targeted.
Election officials have until early August to verify the signatures to ensure the proposals qualify for the ballot.
Other groups tried but fell short of the signatures needed to put a petition on the ballot.
Entities affiliated with the Roman Catholic Church were not successful in collecting enough signatures for a ballot initiative that would authorize state tax credits benefiting private schools.
George Kerry, the legislative consultant to Archbishop Robert Carlson, said supporters had relied largely on volunteers to gather about 116,000 signatures through mid-April, when it shut down its campaign. He added that supporters would try again in 2016.