Thrasher: Time to Base Teacher Pay on Performance
A state senator who doubles as the head of Florida’s Republican Party opened a new election-year battle with the Democratic-allied teachers’ union on Tuesday by proposing legislation that would base teacher pay on how well students do on standardized tests.
The measure (SB 6) demands that teachers get paid based on student performance, rather than on the educators’ years of service. Schools who fail to comply with the new system will be penalized, losing a percentage of their state funds, under the bill.
“It's a bill that actually finally for the first time will reward teachers who actually demonstrate that they are achieving student achievement in their classrooms,” said sponsor Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who two weeks ago was elected chairman of the Florida Republican Party. “At least part of their reward would be based on how well their students do in any given year.”
The concept of merit pay is not new, but it has proved a controversial wedge between Republican lawmakers and the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union. A merit-pay bill failed last year, despite backing from former Gov. Jeb Bush, who now operates a private education foundation.
Several business groups have also backed the idea, including the Florida Chamber and Council of 100, which released a report in January including a range of recommendations on improving Florida's educational system.
“We have great teachers in Florida who should be able to make a lot more money based on the performances of the children in their class,” Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson told the News Service last week.
The bill may have an easy path to the floor, and has the backing of Senate President Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, a candidate for the Cabinet post of chief financial officer.
The bill's first committee stop, Education Pre-K-12, includes six of the bill's co-sponsors, led by Thrasher. The committee’s two Democrats, however, are lined up to vote against the proposal, perhaps previewing a coming fight between the two parties if it comes to a vote before the full Legislature.
Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami, one of those two Democrats, warned that if the state takes away teacher tenure-based pay, teachers will leave the state for more secure jobs.
“And if we insist upon tying a huge percentage of their performance to their children's performance, we will have no teachers working in inner city schools,” Wilson said. “The teachers will look to work in the most affluent neighborhoods they can.”
The state’s Education Department also has said it wants to implement merit pay – including it as a central part of the state's Race to the Top application, a bid to get a portion of $4.35 billion in federal money for education. Florida is considered to be one of the front runners for the award, which the U.S. Department of Education will likely announce later this week.
Thrasher’s legislation also would take away a portion of a school district's state funding if they don’t adopt a merit pay structure. To make up for the lost money, residents would then be required to pay a local tax. A House companion bill has not yet been proposed, but Thrasher has discussed the issue with House education leaders, who say they will likely file some sort of legislation.
The FEA, which helped finance the 2002 Democratic gubernatorial candidacy of Bill McBride, husband of current Democratic gubernatorial contender Alex Sink, quickly dug-in against the legislation
“There's a lot not to like in the bill,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow. “It ravages local control of school districts.”