TALLAHASSEE — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum announced his education platform Friday, saying he wants to make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating tenure and base their pay raises on classroom performance instead of seniority.
McCollum also would increase standards for teachers in the state's voluntary prekindergarten program for 4-year-olds, expand a program that gives corporations tax breaks for providing private school scholarships for low-income students and require most high school students to take at least one course online.
McCollum, the state's attorney general, faces Naples businessman Rick Scott in an Aug. 24 primary. Scott hasn't formally released his education platform, but his positions on the major issues mirror McCollum's, according to his website.
McCollum largely embraces the educational philosophies of former Gov. Jeb Bush, with merit pay for teachers a key element.
"I think most teachers want to see good teachers rewarded," said McCollum, a product of Florida's public education system from elementary school through law school. "We must make sure they meet escalating professional standards. A very serious problem in our state."
A highly controversial Senate bill (SB 6) that included similar proposals was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist this spring, but is sure to be resurrected again in the 2011 session when there will be a new governor.
Under McCollum's proposal, tenure would be phased out for new teachers, who would receive raises based on how their classroom performance is judged, not seniority. Current teachers would be allowed to waive tenure in return for receiving merit raises if they are judged to have performed well. District superintendents and principals would be allowed to easily fire teachers who are deemed underperforming.
"It doesn't look a whole lot different from the blueprint that Republicans have been following the last few years," Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said Friday. "It appears that McCollum hasn't really gauged the view of some people, teachers and parents to SB6."
The state teachers union worked hard against SB6.
McCollum also proposes to:
• Develop standards for the prekindergarten program and require that every school be supervised by an instructor with a post-secondary degree in early childhood education or development.
• Increase high school graduation requirements, particularly in math and science.
• Encourage school district to work with local employers to develop programs that will support their work force needs.
• Allow online schools in other states and countries to enroll Florida students. He would also require that every high school student, where possible, take at least one online course.
• Give financial incentives for college students to major in science, technology, engineering or math.
• Reward public colleges that graduate more of their students.
• Increase funding for community colleges and vocational education programs.