Gaetz: 'Best & Brightest' program needs to be vetted before funding assured
The chairman of the Florida Senate's education budget committee said Wednesday there's a very good reason the chamber didn't include funding toward continuing the new "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program in its proposed budget for 2016-17: The program hasn't been vetted by the chamber yet.
A bill to continue the program, currently in its inaugural year, is moving slowly through the Senate, but it's far from guaranteed to pass.
"It’s my sense we need to fully vet the policy; we didn’t have a chance to do that last year," Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, told the chamber's Appropriations Committee.
The House debated the program last spring, and first-year funding of $44 million was ultimately added to the final state budget during the special session over the summer.
The controversial program offers bonuses to teachers who are rated “highly effective” and score in the top 20th percentile on their SAT or ACT exams when they took them in high school. First-year teachers are eligible simply based on their exam scores.
It is a priority item for the Florida House and the brainchild of House education budget chairman Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami. Legislation to renew it is ready for a full House vote.
Fresen describes it as both a recruitment and a retention tool, but critics say there's no evidence of a correlation between teachers' old high school test scores and student performance. The state's largest teachers' union also argues it discriminates against older teachers and those who are minorities.
Acknowledging the "confusion" and "frustration" teachers have expressed, Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, on Wednesday asked Gaetz for an update on the Senate's proposed funding for the program -- which was notably absent from its initial budget plan released last week.