Thursday, June 21, 2018

Florida teachers union grades lawmakers on education issues

The Florida Education Association, a consistent critic of Florida Republican education policy, has joined the growing list of organizations issuing lawmaker grades as a way to influence the political debate ahead of elections.

Its marks, released late Monday, are unsurprisingly the nearly exact opposite of those put out by Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future in April.

Most Republicans received F's in the union model, while most Democrats got A's and B's. See the Senate and House versions for the details.

Unlike the foundation, the FEA used a two-year average score based on the 2017 and 2018 sessions, rather than a single year grade. The union also counted in factors beyond bill votes, including committee week work, behind the scenes efforts and accessibility to union members.

The difference came to make a point about state policy, which the union has sometimes referred to as "test and punish."

"We don't believe we should grade our students" on a single performance result, union president Joanne McCall explained, "so we don't believe we should judge our leaders that way."

Such a model left room for lawmakers such as Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican, to earn a B in 2018 — he voted against HB 7055 that included union decertification measures and expanded tax credit scholarships, which the FEA opposed.

Lee pointedly called the proposal to change union membership rules "mean spirited" and put forth amendments to lessen its impact.

That effort helped lift his overall mark to D, better than most of his Republican Senate colleagues.

Senate Education Committee chair Dorothy Hukill, who got the worst grade among Senate Republicans in the foundation's report card, received the best mark among those lawmakers from the union.

Likewise, Sen. Bill Montford, who shone in the foundation report card, got dinged by the union. His C+ was worse than all but one other Senate Democrat, Daphne Campbell.

Campbell did not vote on HB 7055. Montford supported it.

"For us, it should have been a no vote," McCall said. "He represents superintendents, and our folks weren't happy about that. We were certainly gravely disappointed in his vote on 7055."

She did not go so far as to condemn Montford, or any other lawmakers, for their past votes, though. Other Democrats getting poor marks from the FEA included Reps. Katie Edwards-Walpole and Kim Daniels, who both got F's for their 2018 positions.

"There are no permanent friends and there are no permanent enemies when it comes to the FEA," McCall said. "We work about the issues, not about the person and not about the parties."

She said she hoped the report card would help people understand lawmakers' positions, as they decide how to vote in the fall.

Related: Florida teachers union vice president challenges for top spot, calls for end to status quo

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