March 17, 2011

Florida Legislature Passed Bill To Support Merit Pay Verses Teacher Tenure

By Michael Peltier, KDAF-TV 33: Florida lawmakers on Wednesday passed a sweeping and controversial measure aimed at replacing teacher tenure with a merit-based system tied to student test results, handing newly elected Governor Rick Scott his first legislative victory.

By an 80-39 vote, the Florida House approved largely along party lines the Republican-backed measure that decides teacher pay using a yet-to-be determined matrix of student performance on standardized tests and other criteria put in place by local school boards. The bill passed the Senate earlier in the week on a 26-12 vote.

While allowing existing teachers to remain in the tenure system that bases pay predominantly on seniority, new teachers will have less job security because they will have to be rehired each year.

"This bill is going to improve our system to the benefit of our students," Scott told reporters on Wednesday. "We will make sure the best teachers stick around, that we retain them, we train them and we'll find the money to make sure they are paid fairly."

The measure pitted the Republican-led legislature and governor against the Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union. Last year the union prevailed when former Governor Charlie Crist, then an independent candidate for U.S. Senate, vetoed a similar bill that had passed both chambers.

Backers of the measure say it replaces an antiquated system that values seniority over competency and provides little incentive for young, energetic teachers to remain in the field. "The current system in place in Florida is not only illogical but fundamentally unjust," said Representative Erik Fresen, a Miami Republican who sponsored the House bill. "The concept of last-in, first-out puts blinders on us."

Critics argued that the move was another attempt to bust the union under the guise of education reform. The vote comes as the debate over union representation has spread across the country, with governors in Wisconsin and other states trying to reduce their influence. Critics also argued that with an expected $1.6 billion deficit in public school spending in Florida, the funds won't be available to reward teachers who excel.

"There's no money here for any merit pay. There's no money to create all the new tests demanded by this bill," said Representative Elaine Schwartz, a Democrat from Hollywood. "So-called 'merit pay' is just a euphemism for the nation-wide attempt to kill unions, taking away the core job security and benefits that can be negotiated for members."

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