Florida Governor Vetoes Legislation on Merit Pay, Tenure
Crist Cites Flaws in Measure, Teacher, Parent Opposition, Along With Rush to Passage
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s decision to veto legislation that would have made it easier to fire teachers and linked their pay to student test scores earned him praise from the nation’s largest teachers’ union, but puts him at odds with Republican legislative leaders and former Gov. Jeb Bush, who worked hard for the bill’s passage.
The Republican governor said his April 15 veto was not about politics. But he acknowledged an outpouring of opposition by teachers, parents, and local school officials around the state had an effect.
Gov. Crist—badly trailing in his Republican U.S. Senate primary campaign—once favored the bill and said he still supports the concept of pay for performance and holding teachers accountable.
But he said he had second thoughts about how the bill would achieve those goals and problems with how his fellow Republicans, who control both legislative chambers, rushed it through. He also said it violated the principle of local control and, possibly, the state constitution.
An override of the veto would require a two-thirds majority in both houses, which is highly unlikely. The bill passed on near party-line votes.
The veto drama is part of what has become a significant year for education issues in the Florida legislature.
Lawmakers also voted to put a proposed state constitutional amendment on the ballot in November that would loosen class-size limits. And they approved a bill that would expand a private school voucher program for low-income students. Gov. Crist, a longtime voucher supporter, hasn’t expressed reservations about that bill.
Reaction Rolls In
Responding to the teacher-bill veto, National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel issued a statement praising Gov. Crist for rejecting “harmful and disruptive legislation” and for “rejecting an impulsive, silver-bullet approach to education reform.”
Florida’s statewide teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association, which is affiliated with both the 3.2 million-member nea and the 1.4 million-member American Federation of Teachers, had said lawmakers and state education officials ignored its suggestions for improving the bill.
“We hope that those who back this sweeping transformation of our public schools will finally come to teachers and parents, as well as school boards, superintendents, and school administrators,” union President Andy Ford said.
But former Gov. Bush, who led efforts to improve school performance through testing, school grading, and other accountability measures, criticized his successor in a statement.
“Gov. Crist has jeopardized the ability of Florida to build on the progress of the last decade, which includes raising student achievement across the board, narrowing the achievement gap for poor and minority students, and improving graduation rates,” Mr. Bush said.
Race to Top Connection
Florida was among several states pushing to enact laws creating performance-pay programs in hopes of winning part of the $4 billion in Race to the Top Fund grants under the federal economic-stimulus program, designed to encourage states to embrace innovative programs that improve student achievement and turn around failing schools.
Tennessee and Delaware got $600 million in the first round of Race to the Top, in part because of merit-pay programs supported by their teachers’ unions.
Some states, including Georgia and Florida, have struggled to get such programs passed because of union opposition. Others considering statewide performance-pay programs include Oklahoma, Louisiana, Colorado, and Minnesota.
The Florida bill, which conservative academics and politicians called transformative, would have eliminated tenure for newly hired teachers and required school districts to establish merit-pay plans for teachers and administrators.
Performance evaluations, based on how much improvement students showed on standardized tests, would have been used to determine who got merit raises. Poor evaluations could have cost teachers their jobs through denial of recertification.
School districts also would have been prohibited from using the common practice of basing experience and advanced degrees in setting pay scales.
The bill would have set aside 5 percent annually of each district’s classroom spending—about $900 million statewide—to cover merit pay, test development, and related expenses. Districts that failed to comply with the bill would have lost that money.
Vol. 29, Issue 29, Page 19