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Prekindergarten teachers ask Florida lawmakers to count them, too

State law does not include pre-k teachers and some other categories as ‘classroom teachers.’
Broward County preschool teachers Emily Wiskoff and Merrill Galante ask the Florida House PreK-12 Appropriations committee on March 25, 2019, to include them as classroom teachers when assigning incentives and other benefits, such as the Best and Brightest bonus. [The Florida Channel]
Published Mar. 25

Two Broward County preschool teachers had a simple plea Monday for members of the Florida House: Please include them.

“It’s very disheartening to not be considered a classroom teacher when we are,” Emily Wiskoff of Broadview Elementary in North Lauderdale told the PreK-12 Appropriations committee.

She and colleague Merrill Galante referred specifically to the Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, which offers an added payment to teachers with “highly effective” and “effective” performance evaluations. In recent weeks, pre-k teachers — along with guidance counselors, career advisers, instructional coaches and others — have learned they are not eligible for the awards regardless of their rating because they are not defined in law as a K-12 classroom teacher.

Related: Not a Florida classroom teacher? No Best and Brightest for you.

More than that, the educators told the lawmakers, they’re not counted for purposes of certain retirement benefits, class size requirements or other areas of law they could gain from.

Yet they must follow the same academic standards, sign the same employment contracts and meet the same observation requirements as others in their district, they noted. Because of their certifications, Galante said, they could teach other grade levels, but many preschool teachers were assigned to their posts and have chosen to remain.

It doesn’t make sense, Galante suggested, for them to be excluded from certain aspects of law just because they don’t fit into the K-12 classroom teacher definition.

“It’s really hurtful,” Wiskoff added.

Rep. Patricia Williams, D-Lauderdale Lakes, told the committee that she wanted the teachers to speak on the issue, even though it was not on the daily agenda, because it’s an important one she hopes to have addressed during budget conforming bill conversations. She said she is consulting with chairman Rep. Chris Latvala on the matter.

Latvala allowed them to talk, but did not comment afterward other than to thank the teachers for their input.

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