Teacher’s Union Attacks Thrasher’s Teacher Pay Bill
The state teachers' union on Monday launched its attack against a piece of legislation that would dramatically change Florida's educational landscape and force school districts into compliance with some Race to the Top provisions should the state win the grant money.
Last week, state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, who is also the newly elected head of the state Republican Party, filed a bill that would demand that teachers get paid based on student performance, rather than on the educators' years of service. Schools that fail to comply with the new system will be penalized, losing a percentage of their state funds, under the bill.The teacher's union is mounting a campaign against the legislation, which labor leaders say could be the “ruin” of Florida schools.
“It lashes out at teachers who make Florida the model for the nation,” said FEA President Andy Ford.
Ford, surrounded by other Florida school teachers, said that the state already has laws in place so that administrators can fire ineffective teachers. The legislation, the group said, does not take into account challenges that some teachers face, particularly in poor areas where students also have to support their family and are malnourished.
Shari Lynn Gewanter, a kindergarten teacher at Oak Ridge Elementary School in Tallahassee, said she has spent three or four days per week helping an individual kindergarten student with her letters.
“This time at 120 days into the school year, she's finally got A, B and C,” Gewanter said. “Huge growth. Can you measure that in a test score? I don't think so.”
The measure, which has been a major tenant of former Gov. Jeb Bush's Foundation for Excellence in Education reform package, is also supported by the majority of the Senate's Prek-12 Education committee as well as some key education committee members in the Florida House. Business groups, such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are also supporting the proposal.
Supporters say that the legislation would get rid of ineffective teachers who are not helping students learn.
It could also throw some kinks into the union's opposition to the Race to the Top application process. When the state applied for about $1 billion of the federal government's $4.35 billion competitive grant for education reform, the union largely refused to sign a memo supporting the grant application process over the merit pay issue and heightened graduation standards.
According to the state Department of Education, if the state wins the grant, individual districts and local teachers unions, must submit an implementation plan for the reforms the state laid out in its application to the federal government. If the unions refuse, then the districts could lose out on the money.
However, if SB 6 wins passage, teachers would have no choice but to comply with the merit pay provision of the application, automatically pulling some districts in line with the state's education reform goals.
“Some of this legislation might help some of that, might relieve some of the burden that's left to the local level,” Commissioner Eric Smith told reporters last week.
Ford said the FEA is still hopeful that the legislation will fail, which means the union would still be able to mount an objection to the Race to the Top money, should the state receive the federal dollars. He stopped short of saying that the FEA would file a lawsuit if the bill passes, though.
“We'll see how that road develops,” he said.