As the furor over proposed education reforms continues to ratchet up, groups on both sides have taken to the airwaves.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce, a main proponent of Republican-led Senate Bill 6, is running a 30-second advertisement that blames "Tallahassee union lobbyists" for misleading citizens about the proposal.
"Tallahassee union lobbyists have been paid a fortune to bash anyone in their way, now backing a shadow group against rewarding our best teachers," the ad begins. "Fact is these reforms will not cut one teacher's pay or cut one retirement benefit."
In this item, we're going to put the claim about teacher pay to the Truth-O-Meter.
SB 6 is a proposal that would radically alter how teachers are evaluated and compensated. Under the plan, which passed the House and Senate and now awaits Gov. Charlie Crist's action, teacher pay increases would be tied to student performance on end-of-course exams. Gone would be the standard calculations for years of service.
Teachers are dug in against the proposal, saying that the changes would punish good teachers, take decisions out of the hands of school districts and require local schools to either further cut budgets or raise taxes.
There has been much disagreement about what the education reforms would do to teachers and classrooms, and both sides are now touting myth vs. fact bulletins to get out their message.
To examine this claim, let's compare the current system to the one in the bill
The current system
Florida's 67 school districts set their own teacher pay scales. In almost every case, they are based on two factors: level of degree and years of experience.
In Orange County, for example, a teacher with 10 years' experience and a bachelor's degree earns $41,720. In Pinellas, that same teacher earns $40,083. If the same teacher has a master's degree, he or she earns $44,325 in Orange and $43,010 in Pinellas. Teachers can get paid extra for coaching sports or advising a club. The state also has bonuses available to high-performing teachers.
As a teacher gains experience or gets an advanced degree, the salary goes up.
The proposed system
Under the new system, teachers would no longer be slotted into a pay scale based on experience or degree. So those salary scales in Orange and Pinellas would disappear.
For existing teachers, salaries would be frozen where they are.
New teachers would start at one salary (regardless of education), and teachers transferring from another state would start at another salary (regardless of years of service). The exact salaries would be set by individual school districts.
Starting in 2015, teacher raises would depend on their annual evaluations, and half of those evaluations would be calculated using student performance statistics.
Cost of implementing bill
We examined the bill and analyses of it prepared for state legislators to see if there is any pay cut. We found no such cuts mandated or suggested in the bill.
The only thing that came close was how the bill would affect a teacher's potential earnings. Their ultimate salary in the future could vary depending on how they rank in the proposed new system.
For example, while a teacher would expect to see small salary increases based on years of service under the current system, their salary could remain the same for several years under the reform plan. But it could also mean they would receive bigger raises faster.
The performance pay raises are just that — raises — not bonuses, and stay a part of a teacher's base compensation.
It's also worth noting that starting salaries for new teachers could be cut, since that's a detail to be worked out by local school districts. But that wouldn't affect educators currently teaching in Florida's schools.
None of this means, however, that pay cuts aren't possible. It just says that they aren't directly spelled out in the bill.
School district administrators fear the cost of implementing the reforms — no one knows the final price tag — will force districts to either raise taxes or slash budgets. And if budgets have to be cut, salaries and benefits are an obvious target — they make up 80 to 85 percent of a district's budget.
Pinellas School Board member Carol Cook said that the financial mandate imposed by SB 6 on top of other budget pressures could force Pinellas to reconsider small raises it agreed to give teachers in 2010-11.
"I'd like to turn over every stone before we do that. But there aren't many stones left to turn over," Cook said.
To recap: In its attempt to promote SB 6, the Florida Chamber of Commerce notes that the education reforms tying teacher pay increases to student performance will not "cut one teacher's pay."
The chamber is right that there's nothing in the education bill that cuts teachers' pay. But teacher salaries could fluctuate in the new performance pay system when compared with the system currently in place. And there is a fear among school district administrators that the cost to implement SB 6 might result in less money to be directed to teacher salaries. As such, we rate the Florida Chamber of Commerce statement Mostly True.