Bill improves system to reward teachers
The Florida Senate has been working on solutions to reward teachers and improve the quality of education for our state's children. After months of collaboration and public input, Senate Bill 736, the Student Success Act, has been introduced and passed in three Senate committees with bipartisan support.
The purpose of SB 736 is to financially reward teachers who are doing great work in classrooms around Florida. The bill is consistent with the federal Race to the Top grant program and Florida's successful application for $700 million in education funding. The reform efforts in this bill set high standards for the teaching profession and provide opportunities for teachers to earn competitive salaries.
The bill's provisions do not change any due process rights or the law concerning the salary of currently employed teachers. The bill does not freeze or cut current salaries, and it does not eliminate salary supplements for advanced degrees for currently employed teachers.
What the bill does is revise the state's evaluation system. Most district evaluation systems provide for a pass/fail option for evaluating teachers. This makes no distinction regarding the actual effectiveness of teachers. Evaluations are subjective, entirely at the discretion of the principal. SB 736 requires that a teacher or school administrator's evaluation have an objective component by requiring student performance to count toward 50 percent of the evaluation.
Under the bill, the evaluation will use student performance data over a three-year period. The Department of Education, in collaboration with an advisory body representing all stakeholders, must develop a student growth model that takes into consideration the prior performance of students. The bill also considers factors that may be out of a teacher's control, such as a student's attendance record, disability or status as an English language learner.
Having served as an elementary school teacher and as a community college administrator for 30 years, I take the concerns of teachers to heart. If we hope to compete in the global economy, we must be willing to reward great teachers and further incentivize our educators. Better pay for teachers who have demonstrated the ability to cultivate student growth is long overdue. I believe that teachers and parents will embrace the proposed reforms when they understand the potential benefits.
State Sen. Stephen Wise, District 5, Jacksonville
Prescription drug database
Arguments don't add up
Gov. Rick Scott is making nonsensical arguments against the proposed prescription tracking system designed to crack down on "pill mills" that supply painkillers and other illicit medications to drug dealers and addicts.
He says the program doesn't work, but the program hasn't started. He says that the state can't afford it, but it is being funded privately.
He accuses the Florida Prescription Drug Monitoring Program Foundation of wasting private money, saying, "It has come to my attention that thousands of dollars have been spent on lawyers, travel, meals for board members." So he's against people spending private money in Florida on things that Gov. Scott and thousands of Florida businesses spend on every day.
As for his "invasion of privacy" argument, apparently trying to stop the blatant commission of crime and saving lives isn't worth the risk. His deaf ear to the pleas of numerous senators from other states suffering the brutal consequences of Florida's pill mills is stunning and makes no sense.
David Audet, Tampa
Evidence is there
I'm surprised that anyone would be undecided over prescription drug databases, considering that the scientific evidence supports their efficacy in curbing prescription drug abuse. As a scientist, I took just a couple of minutes to find published, peer-reviewed literature supporting the efficacy of such programs.
What's more, I have a personal interest in shutting down Florida's pill mills. About a year ago, one of these pill mills opened behind my house. I have a young son (7 months old at the time) and was concerned for his safety, as well as my wife's and my own. I was instrumental in getting that pill mill shut down.
Gov. Rick Scott is showing that he is antiscience and anticitizen in his decisions up to this point. Apparently seven deaths a day due to prescription drug abuse don't mean anything to our governor.
I strongly urge the citizens of Florida to write to their representatives and demand that they do what 34 other states have done: institute and fund a prescription drug database.
Ryan T. Cragun, Tampa
Holder says marriage act blocks gay rights Feb. 24
Obama must uphold law
President Barack Obama has directed the Justice Department to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act — the 1996 law that bars federal recognition of same-sex marriages — against lawsuits challenging it as unconstitutional. Since when does a president's personal opinion trump existing laws? I am not a constitutional law expert, but I was under the impression that the sitting president took an oath that obligates him to defend all the laws on the books, not just the ones he prefers. He cannot dismiss a law simply because he disagrees with it.
In addition, Attorney General Eric Holder said that he and the president have concluded that a crucial provision of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Where does he get the idea that he and the president can arbitrarily make such a decision?
Orfeo Trombetta, Seminole
Trickery brings the truth
I read with interest the article concerning the governor of Wisconsin being "tricked" into admitting that his was the first "domino" state in breaking unions.
The Society of Professional Journalists rebuked the "trickster," saying he violated professional ethics. These are the same professional journalists whose biggest failure was doing no investigation before the Iraq war, and whose idea of reporting on politicians is to ask a question, dutifully write down whatever answer is given (even when it's to a completely different question) and never report that the politician just lied.
If the only way to find out the truth from today's politicians is to trick them, I say "keep on trickin.' "
Steve Harden, Holiday
Teacher pay heads to bottom | Feb. 18
Fantasy on education
Republicans say they want the best teachers in Florida classrooms, but they do not want to pay for the best.
That's like wanting a Cadillac loaded with bells and whistles for the price of a Schwinn bike. It's a fantasy.
Robert Wesolowski, the Villages
'Discovery' on its final voyage | Feb. 25
NASA needs support
One moment space shuttle Discovery is poised on the launch pad; the next, the spacecraft leaps into the sky. But Discovery will never return to the launch pad. Our space shuttles are moving from launch pads to museums, and due to underfunding of NASA, we don't have next-generation spacecraft to replace them.
The technological advantage we earned with space investments in the '60s and '70s has eroded. NASA is the "seed corn" of America, and it must be fully funded. It's frightening that while the United States can't adequately fund NASA, it's planning to increase spending on defense, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid and interest on the debt. Those programs get over 100 times NASA's budget.
Tell our government to dramatically increase funding for NASA today. We need to prime America's economic pump.
Jay Wittner, Bradenton