Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Teacher tenure bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott's desk

TALLAHASSEE — A major law intended to reward the best teachers with better pay and weed out bad teachers won final approval in the Florida House on Wednesday, handing a victory to Republicans who pushed similar reforms through the Legislature last year only to be rebuffed by former Gov. Charlie Crist.

This time, the bill is headed to the desk of Gov. Rick Scott, who will sign it as likely the first legislation of his administration.

But what makes teachers worthy of a pay raise — and how much more they would be paid — is still up in the air.

The bill stipulates that half a teacher's evaluation is to be based on student test scores, like the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test, known as FCAT. The other half will be up to school districts.

As for pay, the bill mandates that effective teachers receive the first and highest raises when a school district can afford them. But there's no indication of how much higher those salaries could be increased.

At a news conference celebrating the bill's passage, neither Scott nor Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, could answer the question of how much teachers should be paid. "More than they are currently," Haridopolos said, refusing to elaborate.

Said Scott: "There's no set answer for that. It depends on what we can afford, what other people are getting paid. So it's always relative."

The shortfall in the state's preK-12 education budget is at least $1.6 billion, according to Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, who told the education committee he chairs that they will struggle to provide the same level of school funding in the next budget year.

The House voted 80-39 along strict party lines for Senate Bill 736, which will also wipe out so-called tenure in favor of one-year contracts for new teachers and do away with layoffs based on seniority. The Senate signed off on the bill last week.

The law marks the next phase of high-profile educational reforms that began more than a decade ago, with the creation of the FCAT and, later, former Gov. Jeb Bush's plan to grade schools based on students' performance on the exam.

The latest changes come as states, prodded by the federal government, have moved to measure teacher effectiveness by tying it to students' performance in the classroom. Last year, Florida received $700 million in competitive grant funding from the federal Race to the Top program, which requires states and school districts to revamp how they link student test scores and teacher pay.

The award came after Crist vetoed Senate Bill 6, a contentious proposal with similar reforms that prompted protests from teachers who said the law was rammed through the Legislature with little public input. Most school districts and many teachers unions later worked together on Race to the Top.

In their bill this year, Republican sponsors Sen. Stephen Wise of Jacksonville and Rep. Erik Fresen of Miami said they tried to make the reforms more palatable to critics. The new law leaves room to reward teachers who work in high-poverty schools or teach in subjects where there is a shortage. They can also earn more pay by having extra certification or advanced degrees in the field they teach.

And the pay-for-performance plan will only affect teachers hired after July 1. Current teachers can opt into the plan if they give up tenure.

"More teachers have said to us they want to be measured, they want to be recognized for their excellence," said Rep. Richard Corcoran, a New Port Richey Republican.

But Democrats argued the bill will create a funding hardship for school districts that have to come up with new ways to evaluate teachers. And annual contracts will make it difficult to attract and retain good teachers who will no longer have job security, they said.

"What type of message are we sending home to our teachers right now?" asked Rep. Betty Reed, a Tampa Democrat. "What type of message are we sending them — that we no longer need you?"

The sentiment was echoed by teachers and their local unions that fear already steep budget cuts. "The biggest problem with them is there's no money to go with any of this," said Stephanie Baxter-Jenkins, executive director of the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association. "And that's on top of the governor already cutting billions out of the budget for education."

Liza Johnson, 50, a veteran special education teacher at Calvin Hunsinger School in Clearwater, was back in Tallahassee on Tuesday campaigning against the bill, just like she did last year with Senate Bill 6. Johnson teaches second- and third-grade students diagnosed with emotional behavioral disorders and said she's baffled by how she would be evaluated given her students' academic and behavioral challenges.

In the House, like in the Senate, the bill's passing was never in doubt. Republicans hold veto-proof majorities and made teacher reform one of their priorities.

After 3 1/2 hours of debate, all Republicans voted for the bill and all Democrats against it, with one GOP member, Rep. Michael Bileca of Miami, absent.

Times/Herald staff writers Marc Caputo, Rebecca Catalanello and Thomas Marshall contributed to this report.

Teacher tenure bill headed to Gov. Rick Scott's desk 03/16/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 16, 2011 11:18pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. North Korean missile launch may be testing rivals, not technology


    SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea's latest missile test Monday may have less to do with perfecting its weapons technology than with showing U.S. and South Korean forces in the region that it can strike them at will.

    A woman watches a TV screen showing a file footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, at Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday,. North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan's maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland. [AP Photo/Lee Jin-man]
  2. PolitiFact: Fact-checking Samantha Bee on Florida felonies

    State Roundup

    Comedian Samantha Bee traveled to Florida, where she says "retirees and democracy go to die," to shed light on how the state makes it difficult for felons to regain the right to vote.

    Samantha Bee hosts Full Frontal with Samantha Bee on TBS. Bee portrayed some of Florida’s felonies as not so serious on her show.
  3. For some, Memorial Day comes around more than just once a year


    ST. PETERSBURG — It is shortly before nine on a Friday morning, and the heat is already approaching unbearable levels at Bay Pines National Cemetery.

    Iles carefully digs up the St. Augustine grass so that it will continue to grow when it is placed back on the gravesite. He tries not to disturb the root base.
  4. State budget uncertainty has school districts 'very concerned'


    While waiting for Gov. Rick Scott to approve or veto the Legislature's education budget, the people in charge of school district checkbooks are trying hard to find a bottom line.

    It has not been easy.

    The unsettled nature of Florida’s education budget has left school districts with questions about how they will make ends meet next year. []
  5. Ernest Hooper: Removing Confederate symbols doesn't eliminate persistent mindset

    Human Interest

    The debate has begun about removing a Confederate statue from outside the Hillsborough County Courthouse, and its removal is long overdue.

    Robert E. Lee Elementary, 305 E. Columbus Drive in Tampa, originally opened its doors in the early 1910s as the Michigan Avenue Grammar School. [Times file]