It's education day in the Florida House.
Nearly every big education bill hits the House floor, from scaling back the constitutional class size amendment to expanding vouchers and linking teacher pay to test scores.
It all adds up to a nightmare for the Florida Education Association, which has fought high-stakes testing for years, successfully placed the class cap constitutional amendment on the 2002 ballot, and fought the diversion of public money for private schools.
The union has spent most of its time fighting the so-called teacher tenure bill, launching ads and attacking Republican lawmakers like Senate President Jeff Atwater by name.
One of the most dramatic overhauls of Florida's public schools in years, the bill would place all new teachers on annual contracts, link raises and professional certification for teachers to student learning gains, and require school districts to divert 5 percent of their funding back to the state to pay for the program. There would be more tests and more requirements for school districts to set up and pay for end-of-course exams for each subject area and grade level.
The union and its Democratic allies argue that the bill would further diminish local education dollars, create new hurdles for districts struggling to raise achievement, and chase away dedicated teachers because the state would lack job stability.
But Republicans — allies and ideological heirs of former Gov. Jeb Bush — say the reforms are long overdue. They point out that the Bush's FCAT reforms were resisted by Democrats and the unions, yet student test scores have steadily improved over the last decade. This bill, they say, would make it easier to weed out ineffective teachers.
Debate will be fierce. But don't expect the bill to change much. House Speaker Larry Cretul wants the bill, which already passed in the Senate, to leave his chamber clean so that it heads to the governor's desk for his approval. If the legislation heads back to the Senate, it might not pass again.