Teacher bill passes, awaits Gov. Crist's signature

Video from NBC-2

— Hailed as a national model by conservative academics and politicians, legislation that would make it easier to fire Florida teachers and link their pay to student test scores went to Gov. Charlie Crist in the wee hours of Friday morning after a marathon House debate that began Thursday night.

Business interests as well as most Republicans backed the bill that was opposed by teachers and their unions, local school officials and Democrats.

It passed 64-55 in the GOP-controlled House on a largely party-line vote at 2:26 a.m. The debate dragged on for more than eight hours although opponents acknowledged at the start they didn't have the votes to stop the bill from passing.

Crist, who's trailing tea party favorite Marco Rubio in a primary race for the Republican U.S. Senate nomination, once praised the measure (SB 6) but now says he's unsure if he'll sign it or buck his party's legislative leadership with a veto.

"There are things about it that I like and things about it that give me some concern," said Crist, who denied he's bending with the political winds. "I'm listening to the people of Florida, my boss."

The House also passed two other key parts of the conservative education agenda in Florida: a proposed state constitutional amendment to loosen class size limits (SJR 2) and a bill that would expand a private school voucher program for low-income students (SB 2126).

The amendment passed 77-41 — five votes more than the minimum required — largely along party lines. It will go on the November ballot where it will need 60 percent voter approval.

The voucher bill passed 95-23 with solid Republican support while Democrats were split. It goes to Crist, a longtime voucher supporter who hasn't expressed any reservations about it.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Florida's Future has been lobbying for the three measures, all previously passed by the Senate, and run television ads promoting the teacher pay and tenure bill. The foundation and House Republicans also circulated comments from conservative academics.

"Florida is poised to lead the nation in crafting student policies," wrote economist Eric Hanushek of the Hoover Institution, a think tank at Stanford University. "This kind of precedent could sweep the nation."

Chester Finn, president of the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, said the bill includes "the kinds of far-reaching reforms" he and others on a Hoover Institution task force recommended when they evaluated steps Bush took as governor.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers union, fought back by distributing a letter to lawmakers urging the bill's defeat from Dianne Ravitch, a member of the Hoover task force and former assistant education secretary under President George H.W. Bush.

"I believe it will cause many of your best teachers to leave the profession or the state because this legislation is so profoundly disrespectful towards the education profession," Ravitch wrote.

The bill's advocates argued it would help attract and keep the best teachers by paying them more while getting rid of the bad ones.

It calls for school districts to adopt merit pay plans offering raises to teachers and school administrators according to evaluations based at least half on how much improvement their students have made on standardized tests.

Bad evaluations, though, could cost teachers their certification. It would abolish tenure for teachers hired after July 1. They'd only be able to get one-year contracts.

The bill would set aside 5 percent of classroom funding to cover merit pay and other expenses, including new tests. School districts that fail to comply with the bill would lose that money.

"It's all bad, bad, bad," Rep. Dwayne Taylor, D-Daytona Beach, argued in debate. "Let's stop this madness."

Rep. Bill Proctor, a Republican from St. Augustine where he is chancellor of Flagler College, responded to critics who said the Legislature was moving too fast.

"I've been waiting 54 years for it," Proctor said. "You might as well bite the bullet and do what's best."

Crist's wavering surprised the bill's sponsor, Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, who also chairs the Florida Republican Party.

"He told me personally that he liked the legislation, but people can change their mind, I guess," Thrasher said.

A 2002 amendment set class-size limits of 18 students in kindergarten through third grade, 22 in fourth through eighth grade and 25 in high school starting this fall.

The new proposal would set those limits on a school average basis while capping individual kindergarten through third grade classes at three students over the average and five for the higher grades.

Advocates argued it's needed because the existing limits are too costly and rigid. Opponents said smaller classes improve student learning and flexibility could be obtained by passing a law instead of amending the constitution.

No Democrats voted for the teacher bill but 11 Republicans crossed party lines to oppose it: Reps. Faye Culp, Tampa; Ed Homan, Tampa; Marcelo Llorente, Miami; Peter Nehr, Palm Harbor; Pat Patterson, Deland; J.C Planas, Miami; Julio Robaina, Miami; Ron Schultz, Homosassa; Mike Weinstein, Jacksonville; Charles Van Zant, Keystone Heights; and Juan Zapata, Miami.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 5

Brillo writes:

Rolo,

You are absolutely correct. Now there is a way for administrators to schedule high achieving student to the teachers they like or want to do favors for and place poorly bahaved or low achievers to those they do not like. This method has failed miserably in the past and will create quite a few pumped up grades as you stated. The dumb leading the dumber.

OldMarcoMan writes:

Selfless dedication to the children ?
Giving the most to the least ?

Oh thats right, its just a Union Job, teach the test.

blondie writes:

This is an outragous development in the field of education. As many of you already know, students are already placed into a specific class because of grades or SAT'S. You are not comparing apples to apples here at all. Children in advanced classes such as Math and English arelikely earn A's & B's anyway. Students, where English is not their first language, may not do as well as others at first. Should the teacher be punished because of the student's handicap in the classroom? I think not. It is not fair to any employee anywhere, not just teachers, to be judged soley by the progress of their employment taking into account the amount of study and work that had to go into the subject in order to learn and receive a decent score. We are not talking about slackers here. Some students do start off with a language barrier and have to overcome that inorder to excel in math, science, and most of all reading, spelling and grammar skills to achieve higher grades. To penalize a teacher because he may not have the brightest and most literate students in his or her class is blantantly unfair and certainly not an equal playing field. If this were to be the rule, what teachers would be willing to work soley with students who are not at the top of the scale?

Fossil writes:

Do I understand this bill correctly? Is it true that it promotes larger classrooms in our public schools? Increase the student to teacher ratios? Does it really encourage and advance teachers that give out more A's then C's, D's and fails no one? Does it encourage teachers to teach to tests so their class scores high on the test? Where will the students go to understand how to apply what they have memorized (not learned)? Isn't this how our students pass their driver's tests? What ever happened to rewarding hard work? This bill does not reward talented teachers. It will reward teachers who advance their students without requiring much work or thought. This bill will ensure our population remains s----- and advance a generation of citizens who will never know enough to ask questions. If this bill passes we will not need teachers but faciltators whose purpose is to advance our children and not give them the tools they will require to think for themselves. Perhaps they will be much easier to control once they enter the work force. Or perhps it is an effort to continue dumbing down our population so that more citizens believe all the spin our political leaders bombard us with. Marco Island needs a Charter High School because our public schools are about to become day care centers teaching nothing.

ajm3s writes:

No child left behind? Teacher incentives? I just don't get it? Sorry. But I think education is a bit more complicated and best dealt at the classroom level ouside the control of government policies.

I may be out there but what has government policies done in the last 30 years in improving education?

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features