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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Senate gives final OK to teacher pay, tenure bill



A sweeping bill that will overhaul how public school teachers are paid, evaluated, hired and fired cleared the Florida Senate Thursday morning, continuing its speedy passage to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott.

The bill was passed 26-12, along party lines except for one Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, who voted in favor, and and two Republicans, Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland and Sen. Dennis Jones of Seminole, who voted against it.

With its passage, the bill became the second major legislation approved by the full Senate, which on Wednesday signed off on a proposed Constitutional amendment that would guarantee Floridians wouldn't have to purhcase health insurance or pay a tax penalty, as mandated in the federal healthcare reform packaged approved by the U.S. Congress last year.

The teacher pay and tenure legislation, Senate Bill 736, would tie new teachers' pay to evaluations based primarily on student performance on exams; award annual, instead of three-year, contracts, and end the practice of basing layoff decisions on seniority.

"This bill ought to be a teacher's dream, to be able to get paid for student success," said Sen. Stephen Wise, a Jacksonville Republican and lead sponsor of the legislation.

Most Democrats didn't see it that way. "With the cuts we're looking at this year in our budget, it is simply not possible" to pay for the reforms, said Sen. Nan Rich of Weston, the minority leader. "This bill is an unfunded mandate to our school districts."

A couple of Republicans, including one who ultimately supported the bill, echoed Rich's concerns.

"I want money to be put into this bill," said Sen. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach. "It will come, but we've got to get the structure in place to do exactly what needs to be done."

Meanwhile, the House Education Committee began its final hearings on its version of the bill at 8 a.m. Wednesday. The committee's Republican majority voted down a slew of amendments offered by Democrats that would have made the legislation more palatable for groups like the Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, that oppose the bill.

Though the committee's hearings were scheduled to last all day, public comment ended around 11 a.m. after about a dozen people spoke for and against the legislation.

The full House has scheduled two marathon sessions to discuss the bill next week.

UPDATE: The committee moved the bill forward, voting along party lines.

[Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 11:54am]


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