[UPDATE] Senate Committee Approves Merit Pay

By: Mike Vasilinda; The News Service of Florida Email
By: Mike Vasilinda; The News Service of Florida Email

[UPDATE] 2-17 --

The Florida House’s Prek-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee filed its version of a teacher quality bill that has been approved by two Senate committees so far. The bill is a revamped version of last year’s teacher merit pay proposal that angered teachers so much that they inundated lawmakers’ offices with letters, e-mails and phone calls protesting the measure, which former Gov. Charlie Crist ultimately vetoed. Like the Senate version, the bill would force school districts to partially base teacher salary raises on student test data. The Florida Department of Education will be charged with developing criteria to measure student growth on the state’s standardized exams and is allowed to consider student attendance, a developmental disability or English as a second language status. It cannot consider gender, race or socioeconomic status. It would also abolish long term contracts, known as professional contracts, and put teachers on one-year contracts, meaning their employment could be terminated at the end of each school year. PreK-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee Chair Erik Fresen and House Education Chair Bill Proctor released a joint statement, saying they looked forward to input from teachers, parents and administrators. “This proposed committee bill is another step toward meaningful education reform that will serve to further improve our state’s education system by implementing a performance pay plan that is grounded in student learning growth that will result in the ability to reward the most effective teachers,” the two said via a press release.

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Tallahassee, FL -

Last year lawmakers were lambasted because they left teachers out of the merit pay discussions. Today’s meeting began at 8:00 EST and lasted two hours, a time when most public school teachers are at work. Rewarding teachers who do a good job or getting rid of those who don’t, is a top legislative priority. Legislation creating merit pay and ending tenure cleared a key committee by an 8 to 1 vote. Afterwards, the bills sponsor and the lone no vote talked it over. “Its kind of a racist thing; black kids or the poor kids can’t do well,”said Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville.

Lakeland’s Paula Dockery is concerned the bill doesn’t take into consideration the conditions at a students home. “The fact that they list socio-economic status is something can not be considered. I think we should work on that,” she said.

One of the biggest problems is that there is just no cash for merit pay. Left unanswered are questions about where the money will come from to pay for new tests and the money to pay teachers more. Even the bills sponsor says finding the cash isn’t his job.

“It would really go into effect in 2014. By then I think that the appropriations committee will have to deal with it. I’m not going to be here in 2014, said Sen. Wise. But the Florida Education Association says the money can only come from one place. Andy Ford, FEA President says, “We could be looking at the end of art, music, physical education. We could be looking at cuts in athletics. Anything that does not fall in line with the accountability system could be on the cutting block.”

The legislation is on a fast track to be one of the first bills passed by lawmakers when their session begins in March.


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