McCollum Offers Up Education Plan
Attorney General Bill McCollum became the first major candidate for governor to unveil his education platform Friday, releasing a plan that mirrors much of the past year's political debate on teacher quality and compensation.
McCollum announced his plan in Jupiter and released a list of items he would support if he becomes governor. The list includes a merit pay compensation plan for teachers, heightened graduation standards, expanded school choice and a revision of the constitutional restriction on the number of students in a classroom.
“Education is Floridians’ pathway to a greater quality of life and key to achieving a prosperous long-term economy,” McCollum said in a release. “Education cannot be separated from Florida’s economy, and under my leadership, we will institute the reforms necessary to produce better lives for our children and our state while boosting our workforce’s economic viability.”
Merit pay for teachers and heightened graduation standards were both the subject of intensive debate during the spring 2010 legislative session. A push to base teacher pay partially on student performance stirred a feverish debate among lawmakers and the public about how teachers should be compensated and how much of a student's ability to learn they can control.
Proponents of the legislation argued that paying teachers for years of service allowed educators to rest on their laurels and not fully commit to educating students who were behind the learning curve. Teachers countered that circumstances outside of their control, such as poverty or learning disabilities, often affected student performance and that teachers couldn’t always overcome that.
It also showcased a contentious debate between Republican lawmakers and then-Republican Gov. Charlie Crist, whose ultimate veto of merit pay legislation contributed to his divorce from the Republican Party.
McCollum's opponent for the Republican gubernatorial nod, Rick Scott, has not yet released his education plan, but says on his Web site that he supports merit pay and would have signed the legislation, SB 6, that Crist vetoed.
State Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the likely Democratic nominee, opposed the measure and is set to roll out her education plan next month.
Independent gubernatorial candidate Lawton “Bud” Chiles has made education one of the central themes in his campaign and has focused mainly on funding issues for Florida's schools. The son of former Gov. Lawton Chiles, prior to announcing his candidacy, ran a non profit foundation that focused on education and children's issues.
Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said the teachers' union had spoken with Sink, who it is endorsing, about her education plan. The union hasn’t consulted with either Republican about their proposals.
Pudlow described McCollum's plan as the “same old, same old” and criticized it for not focusing on funding of schools. Public schools have seen budget decreases over the past few years as the economy has plummeted.
“There's lots of hints of SB 6, so Mr. McCollum obviously didn't listen to what the parents and teachers were saying,” Pudlow said.