The first legislation of Gov. Rick Scott‘s tenure is likely to be a remake of the teacher evaluation bill rejected by his predecessor, which passed the House of Representatives 80-39 Wednesday on a party-line vote.
Flanked by legislative leaders from both the House and Senate after the vote, Scott said Senate Bill 736 follows through with a portion of his “7-7-7″ plan, which calls for ending teacher “tenure” and instituting performance pay.
“This is a big deal,” he said.
Supporters say the measure will help the state follow through with its agreement under Race to the Top, a federal program offering grants to states that increase their evaluation of teachers and base at least 50 percent of those evaluations on student performance. Districts will need to develop new FCAT-style tests in a variety of subject areas. Opponents wanted to know how it will be paid for.
“This is the mother of all unfunded mandates,” Orlando Democrat Scott Randolph said during debate on the House floor.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, said districts are behind in developing evaluations required under current law.
The merit pay provisions, which supporters say are intended to reward teachers who perform well under the new evaluations, aren’t free, either. In this time of budget cuts, nobody seems to know when high performers will see pay increases, or how large they will be.
Another reporter asked leaders how much they thought teachers should be paid. Scott said, “It’s always relative,” and the number depends on what the state can afford. Senate President Mike Haridopolos said teachers should be paid “more than they are currently.” Pressed for details, he replied: “Next question.”
The bill will also limit newly hired teachers to one-year contracts — one of several areas the Florida Education Association said go beyond the Race to the Top requirements, which the teacher’s union signed on to.
“I think the biggest challenge for this is funding,” said Hendry County Schools Superintendent Rick Murphy, who was in the Capitol for Wednesday’s vote. Race to the Top provides some money, but not enough for the performance pay called for under Senate Bill 736.
The measure won’t take full effect until 2014. Fresen said the law will ensure that when the economy rebounds and schools’ budgets recover, teachers’ pay raises will be based on performance.