Thirty-eight school districts sued by the Florida Education Association in September say the state's Best and Brightest teacher bonus program isn't their idea, and they shouldn't be held accountable for its existence.
The districts have asked the U.S. District Court Northern District of Florida to dismiss the case against them. If anything, they contended, the teachers should pursue their case against the Florida Department of Education.
"The School Districts serve only a ministerial role in the State Program, giving FDOE the names of eligible teachers pursuant to the specific criteria and guidances handed down by the state and acting as a 'pass-through' for the scholarship funds. Thus, the Court should dismiss the School Districts and Plaintiffs should seek relief against FDOE only," the districts' lawyers wrote in their filing.
Even if the case could progress against districts, the lawyers added, the merits still fall short.
They suggest the plaintiffs would have to pursue each district independently, not jointly. They contend the FEA has not demonstrated standing to bring the case. Such arguments have doomed other lawsuits challenging state education programs, including those challenging tax credit scholarships and third-grade retention laws.
They also put forth that the program implementation was not age discrimination because other factors were included.
"The face of the subject Complaint demonstrates that the School Districts' implementation of the State Program was based on reasonable factors other than age, i.e., the School Districts' mandatory compliance with a state law and FDOE directives," the lawyers wrote.
The FEA challenged the Best and Brightest, a bonus based on teacher evaluation results and college entry exam scores, contending the program discriminates against older educators and those of color who did not attend schools that required an ACT or SAT score, or could not get their scores because they were from too long ago.
Lawmakers meanwhile continue to tinker with the bonus plan, which teachers continue to pursue by the thousands to bolster their pay. Money for the program remains in both the House and Senate proposed budgets.