Florida Education Officials Perplexed About Teachers’ New Bonus Scholarships
By Andrew J. Mitchell, Jr.
Florida lawmakers’ approval of a bill that pushed through the special session with no hearing from committees for the 2015-2016 budget could enable 4,400 Florida teachers to receive bonuses. But the bill is still being criticized by educators and teaching advocates.
Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, is the House Education Appropriations Chairman. He spearheaded the bill that introduced the new program with up to $10,000 in bonuses.
Fresen’s bill previously died in the regular legislative session this year. It was eventually signed for funding by Florida Gov. Rick Scott.
Mark Pudlow, Florida Education Association’s (FDA) spokesman, believes the funding could have been legislated through other tactics.
“FDA had advocated for better, research-based programs for recruiting and retaining quality educators,” Pudlow said. “We also recommended that the governor veto this misspending of taxpayer money.”
He defined the program as “not a reliable or valid indicator of teachers’ performance in the classroom.”
Counties like Leon County will now forward information from participating teachers in compliance with the guidelines. But, the Leon County Schools Director of Labor and Employee Relations David Clark is suspicious about the program.
“It is doubtful that this program accurately reflects and rewards all the quality educators in Leon County,” Clark said. “The premise that results on a test taken as a college entrance requirement is the best and brightest way to measure and reward good teaching is certainly suspect.”
In addition, Pudlow added there were other options the state could have used the money for, such as professional development, salaries and reducing class sizes.
Both officials believe the program is a great opportunity for teachers. However, they share much perplexity when discussing the way money could have been funded.
Last week, the state’s department of education released the official guidelines for interested qualifiers to follow and summit for the $44 million initiative by Oct. 1.
The memorandum informs school districts, charter school governing boards, Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind and teachers about the criteria. It requires teachers to score over the 80th percentile in ranking from the SAT and ACT assessments and last school year’s evaluation to read as highly effective.