FEA claims race, age discrimination in Best and Brightest bonus
Since Florida's Best and Brightest teacher scholarship became law, educators have complained about the lack of fairness in the program that awards pay hikes in part for their years-old college entrance exams.
On Monday, the Florida Education Association put some heft behind the words, filing a complaint with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.
The state's largest teachers union contends the bonus, which was put into the state 2015-16 budget late in a special session, was denied to many qualified teachers because of problems with the quick implementation. Many teachers could not get their SAT or ACT scores to meet the Oct. 1 deadline, while some never took the exams and had limited options to sit for them before the application due date.
"Too many high-quality teachers in Florida were denied access to this bonus program because of the unfair and discriminatory rules and short timeline set up by lawmakers," FEA president Joanne McCall said in a release. "This bonus plan wasn't thought out very well and wasn't properly vetted in the Legislature and that has resulted in many good teachers unfairly denied access to this bonus."
In the news release, the organization explains why it finds the bonus program, which lawmakers are seeking to renew, is discriminatory in its view:
"Because no percentile data is available from ACT or SAT for teachers who took these tests before 1972, such teachers are disqualified from receiving the bonus.
"The October 1 deadline for submitting applications for the bonus further discriminates against teachers older than 40 years old, because a disproportionate number of them took the ACT and SAT many years ago and were unable to get access to their scores from the testing programs before the deadline.
"The exemption of first-year teachers from the requirement that they provide evidence of being rated "highly effective" under the respondent employers' performance evaluation system further discriminates against and has a disparate impact on teachers older than 40 years old. First-year teachers are overwhelmingly younger than 40 years of age.
"The bonus program also discriminates against African-American and Hispanic teachers by using the SAT and ACT as qualifiers. It has been well-established in the courts and peer-reviewed scholarship that the SAT and ACT are a racially and culturally biased tests that disparately impact test-takers on the basis of African-American and Hispanic race."
The FEA is seeking to ensure all qualified teachers have access to the money, which is to be distributed in the spring. About 5,200 teachers were deemed eligible by their districts, putting them in line for about $8,500 each.