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Florida Union Challenges Law on Merit Pay, Tenure

Florida's largest teachers' union is suing to block a new state law that eliminates tenure for new hires and links educators' compensation to student achievement.

The law, which was supported by GOP legislators and signed by Republican Gov. Rick Scott in March, was strongly opposed by the union, the Florida Education Association.

It requires Florida school districts implement a merit pay plan by 2014 and eliminate tenure for new hires beginning this year. The union has argued that the law strips employees of their due-process rights and places schools farther down the road of emphasizing state tests above all else.

A bill with the same intent made it through the legislature a year earlier, only to be vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist.

Florida was not the only state to focus on altering the job protections afforded to teachers this year. At least 18 states have made some sort of change affecting tenure or continuing contracts so far in 2011, according to the Education Commission of the States.

The union is already a player in a number of other lawsuits focused on undoing new measures approved by legislators this past session.

One legal challenge seeks to block a new law that requires teachers and other public employees to begin contributing to their pensions.

Another lawsuit seeks to block an item from being placed on the public ballot to change Florida's constitution. Known as Amendment 7, the Republican-backed measure would delete language in the state consitution that prohibits public money from being used directly or indirectly to aid religious institutions. The union has argued that the measure is meant to clear the way for a massive expansion of private-school vouchers.

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