Rick Scott signs teacher pay and tenure bill then is protested at Tampa charter school

03/24/11 Janelle Irwin
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Governor Rick Scott signed his first bill as governor this morning in Jacksonville. The governor later spoke at Pepin Academy, a charter school in Tampa, to discuss the future of education in Florida.

Senate Bill 736, or "Son of 6" as many opponents are calling it, is a bill that requires teacher pay be linked to student performance. According to information released by Scott’s administration, tests, including the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or FCAT, will be used to measure student learning. Protesters gathered outside of Pepin Academy this afternoon to send the message that merit pay for teachers is a detrimental plan to students’ success. Jason Smith is the husband of a Pasco County Middle School Teacher. He says educating people about the flaws in this bill is important to the future of Florida teachers.

"All the promises to give merit pay are completely false and they're lies. There will be no merit pay. There's nothing in the budget that allows for merit pay. There's no money there for that."

But Governor Scott dismisses fears that this bill will create any problems. By Scott’s definition, this bill is a valuable opportunity for teachers to own their earning potential as well as a clear incentive for outstanding performance. He says it also allows schools to choose who is best for the job.

"Individual student learning is the touchstone to our success. The quality of our teachers clearly is what makes the difference. We need to make sure that our principals, our superintendents, are able to pick the teachers that are most effective with their students. We need to make sure that our teachers get paid for their effectiveness. Those that are effective are rewarded for being more effective. We do, we'll keep the best teachers, we'll train the best teachers."

Not everyone is convinced that this is the best choice for students or teachers. Jean Clements is the president of the Hillsborough County Classroom Teachers Association. She says that reform is an important part of education, but this bill has too many flaws to be successful.

"They will misjudge a lot of schools, a lot of kids, and a lot of teachers. And make some huge mistakes in decisions they make, but it's also going to cost billions for this state and there's no funding for that. We're already in a great recession, they're cutting the school budgets by millions and millions of dollars after three years of cuts, and to have, to impose requirements that will make new tests be developed that will cost billions with no funding, that financial impact is going to be huge."

The bill also stipulates that teachers will work on one year contracts, meaning there will be no more teacher tenure. Scott has described tenure as an employment contract for life. Current teachers will maintain their tenure status, but those hired after July 1st will divert to the single year contracts. Smith said this is just a way to wage war on aging workers.

"Fighting against tenureship is basically trying to create a corporate style system where you can churn and burn your workers, bring in the young and newly trained and push out the older. And also for benefit reasons, because the older workers typically have more built up in their pensions and if you kick them out of the system you don't have to pay them as much as you would if they stayed in."

There were about 20 other protesters joining Smith and Clements in their protest efforts, but the future looks grim for them. After this morning’s signing ceremony in Jacksonville, SB736 is now a reality. Though it has passed, Clements says there is always room for hope.

"You know, there's always a chance to reform even some obstinate politicians and we'll never give up trying to do that. We have next year's session, we have the following year's session and an election. We have the year after that. After that we have another election. So we will keep making changes, we will never stop fighting to make sure we can have the best schools for our kids. I think we know best what's best for our kids. I mean, do you really trust the folks on Tallahassee? Do you really trust the folks in DC?"

Scott savored his day’s accomplishment only briefly before looking toward the next item on his educational agenda. He called for legislation that would expand school choice and Charter Schools.

"We have to have legislation that expands school choice. Expands charter schools. We must give parents, as we all know charter schools are public schools run by a third party. They can be more innovative, but it clearly creates a competition so parents have more and more choice."

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