The Worst Bill in America?
Florida legislators continue pushing harmful bill opposed by educators, parents and students.
By Kevin Hart
Florida educators don’t want Senate Bill 6. Parents don’t want it either. Students have even taken to writing their legislators and showing up at the capitol to protest a bill that will make Florida one of the least teacher-friendly states in America and could lead talented educators to teach elsewhere.
And they’re all starting to wonder the same thing: Is anyone listening?
SB 6, championed by Florida GOP Chairman John Thrasher (and former Gov. Jeb Bush), passed the full Senate along a party-line vote in March, and could be voted on by the full House as early as this week. Educators, parents and students in nearly every community in Florida have taken to the streets in protest and flooded their legislators with e-mails, phone calls and letters trying to stop the bill that they say could reverse years of education gains in the Sunshine State.
SB 6 contains several provisions that are almost certain to make qualified teachers think twice about teaching in Florida. 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:
• Make students little more than a test score. The bill would mandate more standardized testing and require that all teachers be retained, certified and compensated based on student test scores on standardized tests.
• Show students that continuing their education is not important. The bill would actually penalize school districts that even consider length of service or degrees held when determining compensation for teachers or reductions in force. When the state assigns no value to a teacher pursuing a master’s degree or doctorate, what message does that send to students?
• Eliminate job security for hard-working Florida educators. SB 6 would order that teachers be issued probationary contracts for up to five years; then an annual contract every year after that, eliminating due process. Florida is already in the bottom half of the nation for teacher salaries, according to NEA’s annual Rankings & Estimates report, and educators warn that low salary and poor job security will make Florida a less attractive teaching destination, compared to neighboring states.
• Put salary decisions in the hands of politicians. SB 6 would exclude the salary schedule as a subject of collective bargaining. Salary determinations would be made by the state.
The bill is an insult 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.”
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 was a finalist in the first round of Race to the Top funding, but did not receive any money. Ironically, the state lost points on its application for failing to collaborate with educators.
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.