TALLAHASSEE (CBS4) -Gov. Rick Scott signed the teacher merit pay bill on Thursday in Jacksonville, his first signed legislation since becoming Governor.

Scott attended a charter school in Jacksonville on Thursday to sign the new law that also will chip away at teachers’ due process and collective bargaining rights. The bill was signed at the KIPP – Knowledge Is Power Program – School, part of a nationwide chain of public college prep charter schools targeting low-income students.

Students at the schools go to school more, including on some Saturdays and through the summer, in addition to having longer days.

“We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher,” Scott said.

Senate Bill 736 is also known as the Student Success Act. The portion of the bill dealing with eliminating multi-year contracts for new teachers goes into effect July 1. Schools are given three years to set up new evaluation systems for teachers tied to test scores. That portion goes into effect July 2014.

“I am proud that the first bill I sign is this important legislation that will give Florida the best educated workforce to compete in the 21st century economy,” Governor Scott said. “We must recruit and retain the best people to make sure every classroom in Florida has a highly effective teacher.”

The legislation changes how teacher performance is evaluated, including the following:

· Teachers will be evaluated using a scale of four levels for performance (highly effective, effective, needs improvement and unsatisfactory), instead of being evaluated as either satisfactory or unsatisfactory. In 2009, 99.7 percent of teachers earned a satisfactory evaluation.

· At least half of an educator’s evaluation will be based on student learning gains for classroom teachers, 30 percent for non-classroom personnel and 40 percent for school administrators, instead of 100 percent of the evaluation being based on principal or peer review.

· Teachers in hard-to-staff subject areas, like math and science, will earn more money, instead of paying all teachers – regardless of subject taught – using the same scale.

· After July 1 of this year, new teachers will work on annual contracts, instead of receiving tenure after three years of satisfactory evaluations, which is essentially an employment contract for life.

This is the second year the Legislature has attempted to pass a merit pay bill, with former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoing the bill last year after teacher protests. This year, the response from teachers was muted and Scott indicated early on his support for tying teacher pay to test scores.

It’s a top priority, though, for the new Republican governor and the first to get his signature. The GOP-controlled Legislature put the bill on a fast track and passed it just a week after this year’s regular legislative session began.

“This is a momentous occasion for our state’s education system,” Representative Erik Fresen said. “Excellent teachers are the driving force behind student success and this bill provides for a system that recognizes those highly effective educators and rewards them appropriately.”

Scott, a former hospital company executive, also is a proponent of publicly funded but privately operated charter schools like the one he’s chosen for the signing ceremony.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.

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