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Education news and notes from Tampa Bay and Florida

Best and Brightest bonus extension survives first House stop



A proposed expansion of Florida's controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus program won approval Thursday in its first state House stop, facing some opposition from Democrats but never really in jeopardy in the chamber that promoted it last spring.

Supporters, including Tallahassee Democrat Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, said the state needs to do more to get top high school prospects to consider teaching as a profession. The incentive program, up to $10,000 a year, is one way to lure those students, they said.

"Teachers coming from the top third in their class are going to perform better in the classroom than those coming from the bottom third," said Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, speaking in favor of the program that gives bonuses based on teacher evaluations and college entrance exam results. "I hope we could all agree we want the best and brightest going into our classrooms."

Opponents of the measure accepted the premise that Florida students deserve top teachers. They did not back the approach.

"Is there any empirical evidence that directly says if a teacher had a high ACT or SAT score, that translates into being a high performing teacher?" Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville, asked sponsor Rep. Erik Fresen, who only partially answered the question.

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, suggested that while the best teachers should be rewarded, there are better ways to determine who they are than an old SAT or ACT score.

"I don't care how many supercilious MENSA members are up there in front of classrooms," Geller said. "I want to know if they are penetrating the thick skulls of sullen 13-year-olds. ... Award teachers for teaching and not for being smart."

Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican, meanwhile pressed his colleagues to consider including non-classroom teachers such as media specialists and counselors in the bonus program. Currently, they aren't eligible for the money.

Fresen said he would be open to adding those categories, if money allows, but "I wanted to make sure the limited funds we had for this program would first go to classroom folks."

The bill still has to pass the House, and make its way through the Senate, where a separate version has been filed.

In other legislative action Thursday, a Senate committee gave the thumbs up to a computer coding as foreign language bill, while the House Education Committee sent a bill expanding Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts to the floor.

[Last modified: Thursday, December 3, 2015 3:01pm]


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