It’s rare that an education issue takes center stage in high-profile, nationally-watched political races.
That’s why the turn of events in Florida—where Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed what would have been the most far-reaching overhaul of teacher tenure laws in the nation—has been so fascinating to watch. Gov. Crist, as most everyone knows, is running for the U.S. Senate and has been trailing badly behind Marco Rubio in the polls. Rubio, who served as speaker of the house in the Florida legislature, is challenging the moderate Republican governor in the state’s GOP primary on August 24.
The so-called teacher tenure bill that Crist apparently agonized over, would have put new teachers on annual contracts with no chance for tenure and would have tied half of a teacher’s salary increases to student learning gains. After being inundated with tens of thousands of appeals from teachers and students who opposed the measure, both in person and via e-mail, Gov. Crist said the bill was too flawed for him to sign.
But would he have made a different decision had he not been in the midst of a bruising primary campaign?
By some accounts, Crist, early on, favored the core principles in the bill, but as public opinion mounted against the legislation as it went through the legislative process, the governor kept his distance. While it seems that the governor was genuinely moved by the pleas from teachers and students to veto the measure, he is, after all, fighting for his political life in the Senate primary. Had he signed it, the governor wasn’t likely to persuade many hard-core conservatives&mdash who are the biggest proponents of the measure&mdash to break their allegiance to Rubio, most political analysts have said. On the other hand, the veto isn’t expected to do much for his standing in the Republican primary either, leading many to speculate that Crist may be positioning himself to drop out of the primary and run as an independent, a move that could attract hordes of votes from teachers and other voters who staunchly opposed the bill.
Whatever ends up happening to Crist’s career, it’s clear that this showdown over tenure and pay for teachers will go down in the annals as one of the most telling events in his political life.
Enlighten me: Any other examples of such a high-profile politician being ensnared by a substantive debate and disagreement over education policy?
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.