During a two-hour discussion Wednesday on the teacher quality bill, sponsor Sen. Steve Wise frequently invoked the groundbreaking work of Hillsborough County schools as leading Florida to new and better ways to evaluate and pay teachers.
That prompted Minority Leader Nan Rich, D-Weston, to point out a financial disparity: The district has $100 million from the Gates Foundation to research and implement its new system. The state, meanwhile, is poised to cut school funding.
"Why don't we wait?" Rich asked. "We have an incredible pilot going on in Hillsborough. … Why would we not wait for the results to know we have something that is working?"
But Wise, R-Jacksonville, said now is the time to lay the framework to improve teaching. "If we continue to stall and delay, there are kids who will be irreparably damaged," he said.
On Wednesday, lawmakers also filed five amendments to Senate Bill 736, the bill that aims to change teacher evaluations, contracts, pay and terms of employment. Four of the amendments were withdrawn in hopes of keeping the legislation on its fast track to Gov. Rick Scott.
But Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and retired Leon County superintendent, held firm. He proposed allowing school districts to grant three-year contracts to teachers evaluated as "effective" or "highly effective," rather than keeping them on annual contracts. Teachers who receive a poor evaluation in two years of three would not be eligible.
Montford said his amendment would give teachers some job security. But the amendment failed on a voice vote.
It "sounds reasonable," said Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice. "Yet it is consistent with what we are doing that is not working. Your amendment puts us pretty much back to current law. It's not reform, and it's not change."
The House is set to take up its version of the teacher bill today.