1. The Education Gradebook

Florida lawmakers bend on teacher raises

While many of us were sleeping Sunday night, Florida lawmakers negotiated a plan to give many more teachers raises than they initially were inclined to give.

Facing a veto threat from Gov. Rick Scott, who campaigned hard for across-the-board $2,500 raises for teachers, House and Senate leaders moved away from their strict insistence that all raises be based on performance results. Instead, they crafted a last-minute compromise that would give districts flexibility in how to spend their share of $480 million set aside for teacher pay.

The new deal would let districts bargain the most favorable performance plans to spread the money as far as possible. Gov. Scott and Florida Education Association president Andy Ford issued a joint press release late Sunday praising the agreement.

"I want to thank the House and the Senate for ensuring that we build on our work to implement performance pay, while also allowing school districts the flexibility to use the $480 million in new funding to give every Florida teacher a pay raise," Scott said. "Our teachers are some of the best in the nation and they deserve to be rewarded for their great work."

Ford said, "FEA thanks Governor Scott for his efforts to provide an immediate across-the-board pay increase to Florida's classroom teachers in recognition of their demonstrated performance which has brought Florida's education system to sixth in the nation. FEA applauds the infusion of additional resources into public education as was proposed by the Governor."

Clarifying his statement later Monday, Ford added that he was upset that the new deal still hampers districts in their efforts to boost teacher pay.

"(W)e are disappointed that the House and Senate leadership have thwarted those efforts by delaying any salary increases, if they are to be provided at all, until June of next year and by requiring that any raises be based on procedures for performance measurement that don't currently exist," Ford said. "We are also disappointed that the Legislature, without making additional funds available, has required that the money allocated must be distributed to school administrators in addition to the instructional personnel who actually deliver education to our students."

House speaker Will Weatherford and Senate president Don Gaetz put out their own statements supporting the compromise.

"This agreement embodies both the strong commitment to fully funding a merit pay plan, while providing local school districts enough money and flexibility to fund local education priorities," Weatherford said. "I want to thank Senate President Don Gaetz for his invaluable input and expertise in education. This is an incredible win for the teachers and students of our state."

Added Gaetz: "Neither the House nor the Senate nor the Governor 'won' in these budget negotiations. The winners were Florida's teachers who will be better compensated, Florida's students who will be taught by educators recognized and rewarded for their performance, Florida's public employees who will at long last receive a pay raise which is weighted to give lower-paid employees more pay, and Florida's taxpayers who will be served by a more effective and responsive government without a single penny of increased taxes."

The proviso language:

From the funds in Specific Appropriation 87, $480,000,000 is provided for salary increases, including related benefits for FICA and FRS, for school district and charter school classroom teachers, guidance counselors, social workers, psychologists, librarians, principals, and assistant principals, to be distributed in June of 2014 based on 2013-2014 performance evaluations as required under the provisions of Senate bill 1664, or similar legislation, as verified by the Department of Education. The salary increases shall be at least $2,500 for personnel evaluated as "effective" and up to $3,500 for personnel evaluated as "highly effective." Factors identified in the district-determined, state-approved evaluation system plans shall include scholastic achievement and academic performance indicators (e.g., results of juried competitions; results on Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Advanced International Certificate of Education assessments; results on state-approved industry certification assessments; and results on SAT, ACT, and state-approved end-of-course and FCAT assessments).

Each district school board or charter school board must develop a plan and affirm that it is based on student performance. At the discretion ofthe district school board or charter school board, the plan may take into account the relative difficulty of the teaching assignment, including but not limited to whether a teacher is assigned to special needs students, students achieving below grade level, or to a D or F school.

Each board shall vote on the plan and affirm that it is based on student performance. A copy of the plan must be provided to the Commissioner of Education to confirm that the plan is based on student performance. The district shall submit its plan as early as possible.