[UPDATE] Florida Senate Vote on Teacher Bill

By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida; AP
By: Lilly Rockwell, The News Service of Florida; AP

[UPDATE] 3-11 11:13am --

The Florida Senate approved a major change to how public school teachers are paid on Thursday, amid questions from the statewide teachers’ union and Democratic legislators as to how the financially beleaguered state could afford to develop the new tests and pay increases the bill promises.

After nearly two hours of debate, the Florida Senate voted to approve Senate Bill 736, a measure that establishes a system in which 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. The long-standing tradition of basing salary on seniority also ends, with new teachers working under one-year contracts.

The 26-12 vote came mostly down party lines. An attempt to amend it to take into account socioeconomic status of students when evaluating teachers was defeated.

Republicans in the Legislature tout the bill as a way to incentivize educators to do a better job and allow school districts to more easily fire bad teachers.

Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee who was a school superintendent, said many school supervisors approve of the bill. But he said similar attempts at merit pay have failed in the past.

“What concerns me the most is how we are going to fund this initiative,” Montford said. “I’m afraid it will collapse under its own weight because of funding.” School districts statewide are facing cuts in spending. Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed budget spends $16.5 billion on K-12 education, which cuts per-student spending by $703 to $6,196.

One of two Republicans who voted against the proposed merit pay system, Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, also said she doesn’t believe the state will end up finding the money.

“My major concern is we have not paid for this program,” Dockery said. “Some people estimate it will cost $2 billion, but we don’t know how much it will cost to implement it.”

The bill sponsor, Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, said some of the cost would come from the federal Race to the Top grant that Florida received.

The other Republican who opposed the measure was Sen. Dennis Jones of Treasure Island.

The measure’s quick passage was widely expected. A similar bill was approved by the Legislature last year and vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist after thousands of teachers called and wrote to object. This year the bill was changed slightly, giving school districts more control over how teachers are evaluated.

Florida Department of Education Commissioner Eric Smith said in a statement he was pleased about the bill’s progress in the Senate. He called it “groundbreaking legislation” that requires a “fair and accurate evaluation of our teachers that links their performance to the academic achievement of their students.”

A similar measure (HB 7019) also progressed quickly Thursday in the Florida House of Representatives.

The House Education Committee approved HB 7019 in a 12-6 vote after nearly four hours of testimony and debate.

Like its Senate companion, the House bill does away with traditional teacher tenure for new employees and ties teachers pay more closely to student performance. “Excellent teachers know they don’t need tenure,” said Rep. Marti Coley, R-Marianna. “Excellent teachers don’t fear this bill.”

Republicans on the panel rejected a series of Democratic amendments to bolster protections for highly effective teachers by requiring their retention or giving a specific reason for their dismissal. Another unsuccessful amendment based a portion of a teacher’s evaluation on a student’s portfolio of work throughout the year.

Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, said without the amendments, the bill puts teachers in the position of being without a contract at the end of each year, a lack of job security that will make it harder to recruit good teachers to the state and make even effective teachers vulnerable to the whims of their bosses.

“What this bill does now is allows you to be dismissed with no justification at the end of your year, not based on the performance of your students, not based on how effectively you teach, but simply based on the fact that the year is done,” Bullard said.

_________________________________________

[UPDATE] 3-10 1:48pm --

Statement by Education Commissioner Smith regarding today's passage of Senate Bill 736

“I commend the Florida Senate for passing a measure today that, if ultimately placed into law, will fundamentally improve the work going on in our classrooms and the overall achievement of our children. Senate Bill 736 is groundbreaking legislation for our state, requiring a fair and accurate evaluation of our teachers that thoughtfully links their performance to the academic achievement of their students.

“Simply put, our current system of evaluation is not useful. It relies primarily, if not solely on subjective observation, and fails to connect our teachers to the work of their students. This legislation allows us to address that deficiency and gives us the capability to finally recognize and reward our most effective teachers for the incredible job they are doing.”

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) --

A new version of a teacher merit pay and tenure bill that was vetoed last year after statewide protests is on a fast track to passage in 2011.

The Florida Senate passed it 26-12 on Thursday, just two days
after the Republican-controlled Legislature convened its regular
annual session. All except two Republicans voted for the bill along
with one Democrat.

Key features are a merit pay plan based heavily on student test
scores effective in 2014 and a ban on tenure for teachers hired
after July 1, 2011.

The bill (SB 736) now goes to the House, which has scheduled two
marathon floor sessions to debate it next week.

Former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last year's bill, but the
legislation has gotten strong support from his successor, Gov. Rick
Scott.

_______________________________________

[UPDATE] 3-10 9:41am --

The Florida Senate is likely to approve a bill this week that offers sweeping changes to how Florida pays and evaluates its public school teachers.

The measure (SB 736), brought to the Senate floor on Wednesday and put in position for a vote as early as Thursday, sets up an evaluation system for teachers that depends on student test scores and eliminates the use of multi-year teacher contracts.

“Our current teacher evaluation system is broken,” said Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, the sponsor of the bill.“We need to measure effectiveness of a classroom teacher based on what a student learns.”

It is expected to easily win approval in the Senate and with approval also expected in the House, it could be one of the earliest measures to go this year to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who has indicated his willingness to sign it.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, opposes the bill because it eliminates teacher tenure, requires one-year contracts, mandates more tests and gauges teacher performance on those tests “using some value-added model that is untrustworthy,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow.

The bill reverses a long tradition in public schools of basing salary on seniority.

Senators spent hours on Wednesday discussing the measure on the floor, though formally, debate is scheduled for Thursday.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, pressed Wise on whether Florida could afford a plan that requires the development of more tests and promises better salaries for test score improvement.

Wise said the cost of developing new tests would be paid for with money from the federal Race to the Top program. Florida was awarded $700 million in Race to the Top funds.

Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, tried to amend the bill so that teachers who are rated highly within a certain time frame are allowed to receive three-year-contracts.

His amendment was voted down. “To me, this was a good compromise that allowed those teachers who have been highly effective to be given a sense of job security over a three-year period,” Montford said. “We need to recognize that the vast majority of teachers do a great job.”

This teacher merit pay bill is similar to a controversial measure passed by the Florida Legislature last year that tied teacher pay to test scores. That bill was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist after his office was inundated with calls, e-mails and letters from thousands of angry educators and Crist expressed doubts about the fairness of linking pay to the test scores of students whose difficulties may be beyond the control of the classroom teacher.

This year, there has been a more muted response from teachers and the FEA.

That’s due in part to the participation of the FEA and local school districts in submitting Florida’s Race to the Top application. Part of that application included attaching more significance to a teacher’s performance through test scores. There is some overlap between what Race to the Top and the teacher merit pay bill are trying to achieve.

The bill would grandfather in current teacher pay plans, but set up a new merit-based plan for teachers hired after July 1, 2014. More immediately, teachers hired after July 1, 2011 will not be able to receive multi-year contracts and instead will have one-year contracts.

The bill also establishes an evaluation process in which 50 percent of a teacher’s performance evaluation is based on test scores and whether students had “learning gains” from previous school years. Teachers are ranked anywhere from “highly effective” down to “unsatisfactory.”

A breakdown of each school’s teacher ratings will be posted annually on the Department of Education website and parents will learn the rating of their children’s teachers. The bill would also strengthen a principal’s ability to refuse to hire or not renew a teacher’s contract based upon unsatisfactory ratings.

Local school boards, are given some leeway in determining how teachers are evaluated. Unlike last year’s bill, other factors such as student attendance and disciplinary factors can be considered.

The bill is not only backed by many Republicans in the Legislature, but also powerful groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education advocacy group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future.

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Tallahassee, FL (AP) -

The Florida Senate is set to vote on a modified version of a teacher merit pay and tenure bill that former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last year after widespread protests.

The measure (SB 736) will be up for a vote Thursday.

In debate Wednesday, the Republican-controlled Senate rejected
Democratic Sen. Bill Montford's effort to soften a ban on tenure for teachers hired after July 1.

His amendment would have let highly rated teachers get three-year contracts after a third year in the classroom.

Montford, also CEO of the Florida Association of District School
Superintendents, said that would prevent top teachers from leaving and give them enough job security to get mortgages.

Opponents said it would just be another form of tenure.

(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)


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