As a consequence of our policies and principles over the past 12 years, Florida's progress in public education is an example for the nation and the world. Our children have continued to learn and graduate at higher levels. The most important lesson from our success is that all children can learn and advance. Florida leads the nation in closing the achievement gap. Our African-American and Hispanic children are achieving at a level that exceeds the average student in California and New York. Most especially, we are proud that our special needs and English-as-a-second-language children are learning at higher levels than the general population. These advances are in part a consequence of dedicated and effective teachers.
We can win the Race to the Top competition. In light of the funding pressure on our education budget it would be a travesty to allow the teacher's union to dictate an uncompetitive submission. We cannot afford to miss the opportunity for a $700 million grant. Florida is currently ranked fourth in the competition, and we should not alter our application in any way that would decrease our score and standing. But we must not compromise our policies and principles.
We must enhance the probability of having more effective teachers in every classroom. In last week's briefing to all states by the U.S. Education Department, the Florida Department of Education's Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was used as an example of what other states should use in the competition. We are a model state in this competition.
The legislation that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed would have provided higher pay for effective teachers, especially for teachers who taught hard to teach subjects and in difficult venues. There was grotesque misinformation perpetrated about the legislation; but the essence of the legislation was to encourage more people to teach in difficult subjects and difficult venues. It was an attempt to put effective teachers in every classroom and to remove those teachers who were not effective. Our children deserve an effective teacher every day.
We have a chance to reconfirm our commitment to the principles and policies and reforms in our first Race to The Top application.
We urge the participants in the governor's work group to support the original application. The governor signed and endorsed it in February. Our policies and principles that focus on the core subjects, accountability and choice have worked. Stay the course.
T. Willard Fair is chairman of the State Board of Education and F. Philip Handy is the former chairman.