Florida ‘Best and Brightest’ bonus lawsuit heads to mediation

Florida teachers like Sally Henderson used to look to National Board certification to bolster their credentials and pay. The state did away with that program, and replaced it with a more ridiculed Best and Brightest bonus. Octavio Jones | Times (2015)
Florida teachers like Sally Henderson used to look to National Board certification to bolster their credentials and pay. The state did away with that program, and replaced it with a more ridiculed Best and Brightest bonus. Octavio Jones | Times (2015)
Published September 24

A year-old case contending Florida's "Best and Brightest" teacher bonus program discriminates against educators of a certain age or race is headed to mediation in November.

The complaint focuses on the part of the 2015 program that relies upon  college entry exam scores, which many teachers — particularly those who entered the profession through a community college program — do not necessarily have.

Related coverage: FEA files lawsuit challenging Florida's Best and Brightest teacher bonus 

Federal Judge Robert Hinkle of the Northern District of Florida has dismissed parts of the case, filed by the Florida Education Association and select teachers against the state Department of Education and the 67 school districts.

He still left room for the plaintiffs to continue their case in an amended fashion, which they have. Participants are waiting to see if Hinkle will grant the teachers class action status against the department.

In the meantime, the court has scheduled a mediation session for Nov. 13 in Tallahassee. Lawyers for the districts, which have claimed to have no control over the state program, have told their clients they have little expectation that the discussions will yield any result.

At the same time, talks about a possible settlement between the districts and the FEA continue. They are in preliminary stages, and not close to any deal.

If no agreements are reached, the case is on track for a potential trial in early February.

Any motions for summary judgment are due Oct. 22. The department already has asked to dismiss any monetary claims against it, and is expected to renew its arguments in such a motion.

A pretrial conference is set for Jan. 4, with a trial date on the calendar for Feb. 4.

The Republican dominated Legislature has modified the bonus program several times since its creation, but has taken no steps to eliminate it.

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