Florida Bill Ignores Advice, Warnings of Educators
By Kevin Hart
March 12, 2010 -- It’s been said that one of the most critical aspects of leadership is listening to the advice of experts. That message seems to have fallen on deaf ears in Florida, where some political leaders are ignoring warnings from thousands of educators that a state Senate bill would reap harmful effects on public education in Florida, undermining teacher recruitment, retention, and student achievement.
The Republican-led Senate PreK-12 Committee this week approved Senate Bill 6 along a 6-2 party-line vote. The bill, which will now be considered by the full Senate, includes provisions that educators warn could make Florida one of the least friendly states in America for public schools teachers. Florida is already in the bottom half of the nation for teacher salaries, according to NEA’s annual Rankings & Estimates report.
Educators say that SB 6 contains several provisions that are almost certain to make qualified teachers think twice about teaching in the Sunshine State. That’s an especially troubling proposition for a state that has a history of teacher shortages that have resulted at times in nationwide recruiting efforts.
The 61-page SB 6 would, among its other provisions:
• Require that all teachers be retained, certified and compensated based on student test scores on standardized tests, and penalize school districts that even consider length of service or degrees held when determining compensation or reductions in force.
• Order that teachers be issued probationary contracts for up to five years; then an annual contract every year after that, eliminating due process.
• Mandate more standardized testing for students and for teachers.
• Exclude the salary schedule as a subject of collective bargaining. Salary determinations would be made by the state.
• Abolish an effective and popular program that rewards those who become National Board Certified Teachers, a rigorous national program that awards certification after a year-long, independent review of a teacher’s work in the classroom and knowledge of their field.
The bill is a slap in the face to educators just a year after Florida schools received a record number of ‘A’ grades under a state rating system, says Florida Education Association President Andy Ford.
“SB 6 punishes the teachers who delivered these stunning educational gains,” Ford said. “It lashes out at the teachers who have made Florida schools a model for the nation, the same teachers Governor Crist says we’re ‘blessed’ to have in our classrooms. Well, if SB 6 passes, they won’t be in our classrooms much longer.”
“If you want to thank teachers here are some things you can put a number on: More planning time so that we plan the lessons your students deserve; fewer students so we can give them the individualized attention they need; and pay us for our experience, education and skills we bring to the classroom every day,” added Tom Lentz a National Board Certified English teacher at Ridge Community High School in Polk County. “Don’t punish us with Senate Bill 6.”
Backers of SB 6 say they hope it will make Florida a better candidate for a federal Race to the Top grant, but educators warn that the long-term damage of SB 6 will be felt long after Race to the Top money is spent.
Florida’s Race to the Top application has been the subject of intense controversy over the past several months, as the state government refused to collaborate with FEA and the 250,000 education professionals it represents on a reform plan that could work for educators, resulting in FEA’s reluctant refusal to endorse the application.