THE CAPITAL, TALLAHASSEE, Jan. 31, 2011 --
Following up on last year’s attempt to overhaul how teachers are paid, the chairman of the Senate’s education policy committee filed a measure Monday that would partially base teacher salary increases on student test scores.
Sen. Steve Wise, R-Jacksonville, the chairman of the Senate’s PreK-12 Education Committee, filed a proposal with the test score provision, that would also offer more money to educators who teach in high risk or high need areas and allow school boards to put new hires on one-year contracts.
The measure is the Legislature’s first attempt in 2011 to make good on its promise to make teachers more accountable for the quality of schools. Last week, both the House and Senate held several meetings on the future of education in the state, particularly focusing on the issue of performance pay for teachers. And a draft proposal similar to Wise’s bill has been floated by an education advocacy group run by former Gov. Jeb Bush for the past few months.
Wise’s bill (SB 736) would grandfather in current teacher pay plans, but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014. The bill would require districts to set up evaluation systems that rate teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” Half of those evaluations would be based on test scores.
The bill allows the state Commissioner of Education to develop a formula, to be approved by the State Board of Education, that measures student growth on the standardized exams. According the measure, “the Commissioner of Education shall consider other factors including, but not limited to, student attendance, student disciplinary records, student disabilities, and student English language proficiency. The formula may not set different expectations for student growth based on gender, race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.”
Under the bill, teachers would only see raises if they are deemed highly effective or effective.
How the bill will be received by teachers, particularly the teachers’ union, is yet to be seen. Last spring, when they were largely shut out of negotiations on a merit pay bill, teachers flooded the Capitol with letters, e-mails and phone calls asking that then-Gov. Charlie Crist and lawmakers put a stop to the bill. Many turned up to protest at legislative committee meetings on the subject and publicly rallied against the bill. The measure eventually passed, but was vetoed by Crist.
At a meeting last week, Florida Education Association President Andy Ford remarked to Wise and state Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, that the atmosphere was largely different from last year because Wise and other committee members were working to include the FEA and other education advocacy groups.
Representatives of the FEA could not be reached for comment after hours Monday. Montford, who is also the executive director of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, said Monday night that he has not yet seen the bill.
Teachers last year protested the evaluation criteria, in part, because it didn’t take into account the differences in students, particularly in special education students – a key reason cited by Crist in his veto. Wise has acknowledged he is still working out exactly how special education teachers should be evaluated.
"The issue has always been a difficult one for me," he said Friday.
Lawmakers must also work out how to pay for a performance pay system. The state's Race to the Top money will help some districts put into place a system to evaluate educators, but the federal program does not provide dollars for a salary bump. There is a limited pool of state money for districts that want to participate in merit pay, but it is likely not enough for statewide participation.
The measure is also supported by Gov. Rick Scott, who told reporters late last week that he supports the idea of performance pay for teachers, but also believes that a fair measurement system needs to be developed first. Scott's daughter is a special education teacher.