Gov. Rick Scott seeks to refocus Best and Brightest bonus in his 2017 budget plan
Taking up where the Florida Board of Education left off in the fall, Gov. Rick Scott on Tuesday revealed his proposal to recast the state's controversial Best and Brightest teacher bonus into a broader range of recruitment and retention incentives.
His $24 billion education budget would zero out the Best and Brightest, which goes to teachers who earn a "highly effective" evaluation rating and scored in the top 20 percent of SAT or ACT takers. Instead, he would direct $43 million toward new initiatives, including:
- $10 million for a one-time hiring bonus for teachers testing in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they teach in 2017-2018;
- $5 million to increase the diversity of the teachers in critical shortage and high need areas;
- $5.9 million to recruit Bright Futures Scholars who major in education and commit to four years of teaching in the rural district from which they graduated high school;
- $16 million for districts to implement targeted recruitment and retention initiatives that meet their needs; and
- $6.1 million to reward great teachers in low performing schools.
He also called for paying bonuses to all teachers who receive Teacher of the Year awards from their districts, and cutting the cost of teacher certification fees. See more highlights here.
All of the ideas came from "when we sat with teachers" and asked them for ideas, Scott said during his presentation. Education commissioner Pam Stewart has said she has spent months traveling Florida gathering input about better ways to recruit and retain educators.
Stewart foreshadowed the governor's proposal when she listed her budget priorities to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee on Jan. 26, but did not offer as much detail. The House has indicated that Best and Brightest might be funded at a lower level, but that it was viewed as a "high priority" along with a standardized student attire incentive, which Scott also recommended defunding.
Scott also has proposed cutting funds to several local education projects, including a Pinellas Education Foundation Career Path Planning program, a Pasco County regional aeronautics education program, money to improve the Moore-Mickens Education Center in Dade City, and support for the Florida Holocaust Museum in St. Petersburg.
The budget does not take into account all the potential issues that lawmakers might throw in its way, from differing project priorities to an expected dispute over local property tax rates. Some lawmakers want to decrease the local rate for schools, while others have signaled support for school districts that have asked to keep the rates stable. Increasing student enrollment numbers also are likely to factor in.
Lawmakers never hesitate to note that the governor's budget is simply a recommendation, and that they write the state's spending plan. They've already taken opposing stances on issues such as economic incentives for businesses. Most education leaders in Florida have already said they expect finances to be one of the biggest issues of the spring session. Stay tuned.