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House Democrat calls for end to Best and Brightest bonuses

By Jeffrey Solochek
Rep. Loranne Ausley, D-Tallahassee [Florida House of Representatives]

Just months after the Florida Legislature expanded the state's Best and Brightest bonus program, and formally added it into law, Rep. Loranne Ausley has filed a bill to repeal the controversial system.

With two short lines, HB 6061 would completely do away with the sections of statute creating the model that pays certain teachers extra for their performance evaluations and college entrance exam results, and principals for high percentages of their teachers getting the extra pay.

"I have a problem with this Legislature's focus on one-time bonuses vs. annual salary increases," said Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat. "It's not a responsible way for people to be able to plan their lives."

She further took issue with the use of ACT and SAT test scores as a criterion for the award, which thousands of teachers have sought despite their similar criticisms. Many teachers who would otherwise qualify might not have taken the tests for any number of reasons, Ausley said, suggesting the program creates a discriminatory division into haves and have nots.

Giving principals bonuses based on the number of teachers in their schools who qualify for Best and Brightest also makes little sense, she added, noting she had heard talk that some principals actually paid for their teachers to take or retake the tests so all could qualify for the money.

Repealing the program would not mean the state's best teachers would have to go without added financial recognition, Ausley noted. The Dale Hickam Excellent Teaching Program remains on the books, she said, to support teachers who earn National Board certification, which she called the "gold standard" of teacher professional development.

The numbers of Florida teachers seeking National Board certification, once among the highest in the nation, have all but disappeared since the Legislature defunded the support.

"It seems to me we ought to be keeping that up," Ausley said.

She acknowledged that the bonus program has been a priority of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whom she plans to meet with next week. So the chances of repeal might be limited.

"I am hopeful we can at least have the conversation," she said.

Corcoran was on vacation through Friday.