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Teacher Merit Pay Bill On Senate Floor

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Legislative Session Coverage

TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) — The Florida Senate will bring to the floor Wednesday a highly controversial proposal that would change the way teachers are paid.

The measure (SB 736) would set up a merit pay system for teachers and eliminate tenure for new hires. This was the most heavily debated piece of legislation last year and was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist after teachers around the state protested that the merit pay system would penalize them.

The measure and a companion House version, would grandfather in current teacher pay plans, but set up new, merit-based ones for teachers hired after July 1, 2014. The proposals also call for an evaluation process to be set up for teachers, but they don’t spell out the details, allowing the Commissioner of Education and local school districts to work out just how teachers would be evaluated.

Unlike last year’s measure, SB 6, the new version would allow the evaluation formula to consider students’ attendance, disciplinary records, disabilities and English proficiency when evaluating teachers for merit pay. It may not, however, set different expectations for students based on gender, race, ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

But a student’s home life, which would likely be affected by socioeconomic status, has remained a major sticking point for teachers in their opposition to the bill. Many have said that they see students who are dealing with serious problems at home, which takes their focus away from simple math and reading. Some teachers said they should not be penalized financially because their students on the testing day may have a major problem at home over which the teacher has no control.

The bills would require districts to set up evaluation systems that rate teachers as “highly effective,” “effective,” “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory.” Half of those evaluations would be based on test scores. They would also allow districts to permanently put new hires on one-year contracts instead of the long term agreements that are in place now, making it easier for administrators to fire teachers.

The proposal has been backed by some high profile and politically powerful groups, namely the Florida Chamber of Commerce and former Gov. Jeb Bush’s education advocacy group, the Foundation for Florida’s Future. It has also gained traction in select pockets of teachers around the state.

The Florida Education Association, the statewide teachers’ union, opposes the bill.

Gov. Rick Scott has pledged his support to merit pay legislation.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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