Fla. Teacher Merit Pay Advanced in Both Chambers

By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida
By: Kathleen Haughney, The News Service of Florida


Key committees in both legislative chambers gave yes votes Wednesday, Feb. 23 to a proposal to partially base teacher salaries on their students’ test scores, a proposal shot down last year after teachers around the state protested that the merit pay system would penalize them.

The measure (SB 736) and a companion House version, would grandfather in current teacher pay plans, but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014. The proposals also call for an evaluation process to be set up for teachers, but they don’t spell out the details, allowing the Commissioner of Education and local school districts to work out just how teachers would be evaluated.

The Senate Budget Committee voted Wednesday to send its version to the floor – with a technical stop at the Rules Committee to be put on the calendar. The House PreK-20 Competitiveness Committee, meanwhile also voted Wednesday to forward the proposal to its next committee stop. The House bill amended its measure to put it in line with the Senate bill, so both proposals are, for now, the same.

Unlike last year’s measure – SB 6 – the new version would allow the evaluation formula to consider students’ attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities and English proficiency when evaluating teachers for merit pay. It may not, however, set different expectations for students based on gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

But a student’s home life, which would likely be affected by socioeconomic status, has remained a major sticking point for teachers in their opposition to the bill. Many have said that they see students who are dealing with serious problems at home, which takes their focus away from simple math and reading. Some teachers said they should not be penalized financially because their students on the testing day may have a major problem at home over which the teacher has no control.

Megan Allen, the 2010 Florida teacher of the Year, was among those who spoke out against the bill Thursday as both House and Senate committees debated the bill. Allen, who is her family’s bread winner while her husband goes back to school, said if the current proposal becomes law, she might consider leaving her Hillsborough County school, where more than 90 percent of the students receive free or reduced lunches. She said she is afraid her pay will suffer if a given class of students does not perform well because of problems outside of the classroom.

“It’s not taking into account many adult life struggles that high poverty students experience each day,” she said.

The bills 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. They would also allow districts to permanently put new hires on one-year contracts instead of the long term agreements that are in place now, making it easier for administrators to fire teachers.

The proposal has been backed by some high profile and politically powerful groups, namely the Florida Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education advocacy group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future. It has also gained traction in select pockets of teachers around the state.

“It will create a system that focuses on what matters most: Education,” said Savannah Nielson, a middle school teacher from Miami, during the Senate Budget Committee meeting.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, has been milder in its opposition to these proposals compared to last spring, when it reacted to the bill by encouraging members to flood lawmakers offices with e-mails, letters and phone calls. But it does seem to be ramping up efforts to fight the bill as it progresses through the Legislature.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately vetoed the bill last year, citing concerns of fairness to teachers. Prior to the veto, his office said he received 65,259 phone calls and e-mails in opposition and 3,090 in support, with thousands more left uncategorized.

The bill now appears poised for easy passage though, with Gov. Rick Scott pledging his support to merit pay legislation and both House Speaker Dean Cannon and Senate President Mike Haridopolos making it a top priority.

Haridopolos told reporters following the Senate vote that he was pleased that the measure was progressing, while acknowledging that some educators still opposed the bill.

“There are some people that are still not happy with the bill, but you know, you’re making a change,” he said. “There’s going to be some of that status quo interrupted.”

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  • by Jim on Feb 26, 2011 at 04:33 PM
    RE: BULL Last year, every great piece of legislation was vetoed by Chuckie, who twisted every way possible to try to steal a US Senate seat. Now we have a real Governor who will not veto this great bill.
  • by Green Goat Location: Virginia on Feb 25, 2011 at 03:21 AM
    Follow the money, government could care less about the children and education. Its all about what politicians and their buddies can get. Merit Pay for all...the state will drop this after the bill comes due because of lack of funds. Florida could save some money by cutting out the per diem and office expences for our elected officials, they could stay at home and vote online.
  • by AwakeTheStateMarch Location: Tally on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:36 PM
    Charlie, Bill McCollum or Alex Sink would not have driven us in the ditch this bad. Shake the trees to uncover all government corruption and you will find the funds to balance the budget. Start with Scotty. Email ASAP your House & Senate reps. Join Awake the State March, at the State Capitol, Tallahassee to protest this big government takeover. Protest the first day of Session, March 8 and every day until Session is over. Organize yourselves, Teachers Unions, State Workers, Fire Fighers, Policemen Unions, Environmental groups, FSU Sudents, Healthcare and children groups, NAAPC, any group that the Legislature is voting on that concerns you. Be there if you can, or send your friends or family if you can't. Bring signs & our American Flag. Take back our State, return it to its People, we the Taxpayers. I am a small business owner and with massive job loss in gov. and private sector jobs, I may have to close. With no customers and no sales, means no taxes collected from me to help State.
  • by BULL Location: FLORIDA on Feb 24, 2011 at 03:03 PM
  • by so sad Location: madison fla on Feb 24, 2011 at 02:34 PM
    megan harris i feel for you
  • by Anonymous on Feb 24, 2011 at 02:28 PM
    What criteria should be used to determine the effectiveness of a teacher? How should this criteria measured by the DOE? I want to get valid answers from teachers - not complaints about how merit pay is bad.
  • by Concerned Mother Location: Tallahassee on Feb 24, 2011 at 11:37 AM
    This is promoting a focus on testing only, which is what the merit pays system rewards. Students need more learning and critical thinking skills developed daily, rather than to pass a momentary test.
  • by Gary Location: New Port Richey on Feb 24, 2011 at 07:47 AM
    Putting it in a way that might make sense to the pro-business government we have... The middle east crisis is raising fuel costs already, or at least is being used as an excuse to raise prices by Big Oil. Tom the foreman is in charge of a fleet of delivery trucks and has a budget to operate in. Tom exceeds the budget because people are cruel and refused to move closer to the business to make his life easier. Tom is fired for being ineffective. Apparently Tom should have had more control over the Middle East or Big Oil. That being said, I have no problems with teachers being held accountable. But, like any INTELLIGENT system of evaluation, they should be held accountable to things within their control. There are many other metrics that teachers could be rated on beside student standardized test scores. Use them and the argument goes away.
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