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Florida Governor's Merit-Pay Plan, School Funding Boost Are Approved

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In a measure approved during a special session of the legislature, Florida took preliminary steps toward setting up a merit-pay plan for the state's public-school teachers. It is the first state to enact such a program.

The first stage of the "quality instruction incentive plan" involves establishing a 15-member council that will study the issue and make recommendations on the criteria under which the supplemental pay would be awarded.

Theoretically, the group could also recommend that the plan be abandoned as unworkable, although neither state nor union officials say they expect that to happen. The council's recommendations will be sent to Gov. Robert Graham by March 1, 1984, and the plan would be implemented Oct. 1.

Major Education Bill

The measure was passed as part of a major education bill that provided a total of $2.5 billion in state funds for public schools, plus a potential $1.3 billion in local funds that could be generated through required and discretionary taxes. That level of state and local funding represents an increase of $430 million over last year, according to the state education department.

Under the new legislation, the local required millage effort increases from 3.878 to 4.4. The increase in the state's share of funding will come largely from a tax package, approved along with the measure, that initiated the taxing of foreign income of Florida-based corporations and increased the current tax on alcoholic beverages.

Representatives of the teachers' unions say that although they are not "enthralled" with the merit-pay plan, they are eager to work with the state to make sure that the criteria used are "objective."

"We think that something like this probably has to come about," said Richard Layer, director of governmental relations for the Florida Education Association United, an affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers. "If there is something out there that could work, we want to be a part of it."

Mr. Layer added that the union is "not convinced that there's anything now that's working correctly," and that teachers' salaries would have to increase in general if any kind of incentive program is to work.

Tay Green, government-relations coordinator for the Florida Teaching Profession/nea, said his organization had worked closely with the Governor to develop the plan thus far, and expected to continue doing so. The ftp also emphasizes that any criteria used to determine the recipients of merit pay should be highly objective, he noted.

The legislature enacted other program changes as well, most focusing on the state's need to strengthen mathematics, science, and computer education. Beginning in the 1984-85 school year, students will need 22 credits to graduate, including three in mathematics and three in science. To provide more instructional time to meet that requirement, the lawmakers extended the school day for high-school juniors and seniors by one class period, at a cost of $27 million.

Summer Training for Teachers

The state will also begin funding summer training for mathematics and science teachers with a $9.2-million appropriation.

Computers and science laboratories will also receive more funding--$10 million for mathematics and computer literacy, and a total of $20 million for science laboratories, according to a spokesman for the Governor.

The measures enacted constitute only part of the ambitious reform agenda proposed by the Governor. Nevertheless, his aides reported that he was optimistic about the progress made so far. "I think he's very pleased with some of the reforms initiated, and we feel we're staying on track to be in the upper quartile of states by 1985-86," the spokesman said.

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