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  1. Gradebook

Which teachers qualify for a Florida Best and Brightest recruitment bonus?

The definition of ‘newly hired’ is about as broad as the one for ‘content expert.’
LUIS SANTANA | Times Christine Danger, a science resource teacher at Sheehy Elementary School in Tampa works with students at an after school robotics club called the Sheehy Robo Lion Robotics Team.
Published Aug. 2

The Florida Board of Education held an emergency meeting Monday to set definitions allowing school districts to begin distributing $4,000 recruiting bonuses to newly hired teachers.

The rule focused on what it means to be a “content expert” in the desired fields of math, science, civics, computer science and reading. But it raised several questions about what it means to be a recruit.

One reader asked whether it counts if a teacher switches schools without moving districts. Another wondered if you must be a new teacher, or just new to a school. Other variations on the theme also emerged.

So we asked the Department of Education for some clarification. It turns out the department posted a FAQ document about as quietly as it called its emergency meeting, and in it are some details.

Most notably, the rule seems not to strictly define eligibility for a recruitment bonus beyond being a “newly hired classroom teacher” — not to be confused with a resource teacher or instructional coach — and being a “content expert.”

RELATED: Which Florida teachers are ‘content experts’?

Here’s the relevant question and answer from the department, sent to us as the response to our inquiry:

What is the definition of a “newly hired classroom teacher?” The statute does not provide a definition of “newly hired classroom teacher.” The definition could encompass persons who are new to teaching, new to the state of Florida, new to the district or other definitions. It is suggested that districts apply the funds so that the purpose of this portion of the statute, namely to recruit content experts as classroom teachers, is met and that the district maintain documentation to show that the recipient satisfies the district’s criteria for “newly hired.” This is meant to be implemented with as much flexibility as possible.

Some readers, such as teacher union activist Luke Flynt of Indian River County, have suggested the guidance makes “absolutely no sense.” It could apply to virtually any teacher in Florida who transfers schools, if a district adopts the broadest interpretation.

“It is nice that in this one instance the DOE is giving districts flexibility. I wish they’d return local control in many other areas. But, it’s almost as if they are begging for another Best and Brightest lawsuit with this definition of ‘newly-hired,’” Flynt commented on the Gradebook’s Facebook page.

At least one district has indicated it doesn’t plan to issue the award to current employees who switch campuses. If the goal is to recruit, Pasco assistant superintendent Kevin Shibley said, his district expects to focus the money on new teachers, knowing others can qualify for a “recognition” or “retention” bonus also in the new language.

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