Specter of Senate Bill 6 Looming in Senate Race
The thorny issue of teacher pay presents a clear line between the choices for governor, with both major Republicans saying they’d join lawmakers who want to revisit the issue that divided state leaders this year, but the Democrat and the independent in the race against going totally to merit pay.
If a Republican wins the governor's office, Floridians will see a replay of this past spring's contentious battle over merit pay for teachers that led to protests at the Capitol, and ultimately helped push Gov. Charlie Crist out of the Republican Party.
Rick Scott, the GOP frontrunner, has been in the race for a couple months and is all over TV with his self-funded ads. But only in the last week or so has he started to spell out details of many of the policies he would actually push for or against, and on Friday said he’d differ from Crist, who vetoed the bill that shifted the way teachers are paid to take into account how their students do.
“I think that in business what you try to do is make sure you compensate the employees that do the job the best,” Scott told reporters Friday as he criss-crossed the state on a bus tour. “So I think the same thing should happen with teachers.”
The issue is whether teachers should be paid based on how well their students do or on how long they have taught. The bill passed by the Legislature last spring took the state by storm when it tried to tie teacher pay to student test results. Teachers protested en masse, crowding legislative meetings and flooding lawmakers' offices with E-mail and phone calls.
They argued teachers could not control all of the factors impacting a child's ability to learn, such as socioeconomic factors. Scott’s main GOP rival, Attorney General Bill McCollum, also supports the concept of merit-based pay.
McCollum, when he rolled out his education policy paper last week, proposed a plan that mirrored SB 6 and has previously said he would sign the legislation.
“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,” McCollum said when he rolled out his schools platform.
Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the leading candidate for the Democratic nomination, opposed the plan passed by the Legislature last spring and has said she would veto an identical measure if it should come before her as governor. She does support the concept of merit pay, but only if it is done through local collaboration, a campaign spokeswoman said.
Independent candidate Bud Chiles also protested the bill last spring and has said that if elected, he wants to focus more on the education and training of teachers.
“They are confronted with a host of different problems and issues that they haven’t been adequately prepared to deal with,” said Chiles spokesman Jim McClellan. “Students with emotional disorders and undiagnosed learning disabilities, for example, are among the issues that are thrust on our teachers.”
Scott stopped short of saying he would sign a bill that resembled the one that passed the Legislature last year, simply adding that it wasn't quite where he wanted it and that he would work with lawmakers to “improve it.”
“It's got to be fair to teachers,” he said, though he didn’t say how he would get it to that point.
The Florida Education Association, which mounted a large public campaign against SB 6, said it has consulted with Sink over her education plan, but not the two Republican candidates. A spokesman said the teachers' union fully expects to see another legislative attempt at merit pay in some form.
“We'll oppose it if it doesn't reflect the concerns of teachers and school employees as this year's effort did not,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow.