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Florida Legislature Approves Teacher Tenure, Merit-Pay Bill

A year after it died with the stroke of a governor's veto pen, a Florida bill that would phase out teacher tenure and implement merit pay for teachers and principals is on the verge of becoming law.

Senate Bill 736 cleared the Florida House of Representatives today and is headed to the desk of Republican Gov. Rick Scott, who has said he supports the measure.

The legislation moved swiftly through the GOP-dominated Statehouse, despite strong objections from teachers and others. The bill was a resuscitated version of a proposal brought forward last year to end tenure and implement performance pay, which was vetoed by former Florida Gov. Charlie Crist, also a Republican.

Crist had cited public objections in killing the measure, amid complaints that it was rushed through the Capitol. Republicans argued that this year's measure received a fair and open vetting.

"This is a momentous occasion for our state's education system," said state Rep. Erik Fresen, a Republican who chairs the House K-20 Competitiveness Subcommittee, in a statement. "Excellent teachers are the driving force behind student success, and this bill provides for a system that recognizes those highly effective educators and rewards them appropriately."

The proposal would bar any instructional personnel in school districts hired after July 1, 2011, from receiving tenure or professional-service contracts. Teachers would be eligible for one-year contracts after that, but not if they had received two consecutive unsatisfactory evaluations, two such evaluations in a three-year period, or three consecutive "needs improvement" evaluations, according to the latest version of the proposal I've seen.

The bill reflects and supports many of the goals of Florida's winning application in the federal Race to the Top competition. Florida's $700 million plan requires that 50
percent of teachers' and administrators' evaluations be based on growth in student achievement on statewide tests. Under a recent version of the legislation, not all students would necessarily be held to the same measures for academic gains over time, and school districts could request to create alternatives.

The legislation also would replace the typical step-and-lane system for paying teachers with one based on performance, as judged by the evaluation system created through the proposal.

As Republicans hailed the measure's passage, the state's largest teachers' union, the Florida Education Association, blasted it, saying the proposal is likely to create an unreliable system for judging teachers. The union also said the research does not demonstrate a connection between implementing merit-pay systems and improved student achievement.

"There's no research evidence that this legislation will help our children in public schools," said Andy Ford, the FEA's president, on Wednesday. "We've looked closely at plenty of scientifically sound, peer-reviewed research out there that shows this is the wrong approach to take to implement performance pay and to revamp evaluations."

The union also says the system will bring heavy financial burdens to districts, at a time when Gov. Scott is proposing slashing K-12 spending. State lawmakers had voiced similiar concerns in recent weeks

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