Published Online: March 13, 2007
Published in Print: March 14, 2007, as Florida Governor Seeking to Boost Performance Pay

Florida Governor Seeking to Boost Performance Pay

In his first State of the State address, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist reiterated his call for putting an additional $300 million into performance pay for teachers—even as the state’s so-called STAR plan providing such bonuses comes under fire in the legislature and in court.

His proposal, as outlined in his March 6 speech to the legislature, would increase pay by 10 percent for the top 25 percent of teachers.

“This represents a doubling of the current program and will go a long way toward keeping and retaining Florida’s best teachers,” said the Republican governor, who drove home that point during his speech by showing a video interview with a former teacher who left the field for a higher-paying job.

The Special Teachers are Rewarded Program, as it is formally known, was enacted last year under then-Gov. Jeb Bush with an initial infusion of $147.5 million. It is being challenged in court by the Florida Education Association. The legislature, while appearing to support the program in general, is proposing some significant changes to give districts more flexibility in implementing performance pay.

Gov. Crist, elected in November, used his keynote address to state lawmakers to pitch other education initiatives as well, though none of them is as controversial. He proposed spending an additional 19 percent on reducing class sizes, to a yearly total of $3.8 billion, which would help to satisfy a 2002 voter-approved constitutional amendment to make classes smaller.

He also wants to add 400 reading coaches to the current corps of 2,360. The coaches are teachers who work with other teachers to improve reading instruction. Sixty percent of the coaches currently work in elementary schools, with the remainder split among middle and high schools across the state.

The goal, Gov. Crist said, is to provide one reading coach for every 20 teachers. Districts would be able to decide, however, where those coaches were needed most, according to the Florida Department of Education.

The governor’s education package also includes $10 million for an online tutoring program, called Pathways to Success, for students to get extra help.

STAR Centerpiece

But the cornerstone of his education proposals is expanding the STAR program, which has stirred opposition among teachers because it would base part of their pay on their students’ performance on standardized tests—the chief one being the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.

Gov. Crist sought to reassure teachers, promising in his speech that a teacher’s raise “will not be based on a test alone.”

Currently, 18 of the state’s 67 districts are participating in the plan, with 28 more districts’ plans expected to be approved by the state Board of Education. Participating districts must base at least 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation on student achievement as measured primarily by test scores; the rest of the evaluation can be based on other factors, such as a principal’s evaluation. These districts award bonuses equaling 5 percent of salary to teachers in the top quartile. Gov. Crist’s plan seeks to double that to 10 percent. Bonuses are scheduled to be awarded at the end of this school year.

His proposal already has undergone changes in separate bills being considered in both the House and the Senate, and the STAR bills likely will change again before legislators finish their 2007 session. They are scheduled to wrap up in May.

Last week, a Senate committee advanced a bill that would make the program more flexible, allowing districts to decide how much of a teacher’s raise should be based on student performance. The bill also would let districts give out bonuses to as many as 80 percent of teachers.

Similar flexibility exists in the House bill, approved by a committee in that chamber last week. But opposition remains.

“If we were to take that money, we could raise teacher salaries across the board,” said Rep. Martin David Kiar, a Democrat whose district includes the Broward County school district.

And that’s the chief argument being made by the Florida Education Association, which is affiliated with both the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers. The union has a lawsuit pending in circuit court in Tallahassee that seeks to block the performance-pay plan.

“We have such a problem with salaries that lag so far behind,” said FEA spokesman Mark Pudlow, who said Florida is losing teachers to higher-paying neighboring states such as Georgia. Florida’s average teacher salary was $41,590 in 2004-05, compared with Georgia’s $46,526, according to the NEA’s latest survey.

Nonetheless, Mr. Pudlow praised the new governor for being willing to discuss the issue, and for having a “new openness,” referring to his predecessor.

PHOTO: Florida Gov. Charlie Crist prepares to give his State of the State speech, flanked by two fellow Republicans, House Speaker Marco Rubio, left, and Senate President Ken Pruitt.
—Phil Coale/AP

Vol. 26, Issue 27, Pages 18,20

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