Teaching Profession

Teacher Bonus Pay Program Comes Under Fire in Federal Complaint

By Ross Brenneman — December 22, 2015 2 min read
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A state teachers’ union has filed a formal federal complaint over a Florida teacher bonus program that the union alleges discriminates against teachers based on age and race.

In June, Gov. Rick Scott signed a budget deal that set aside $44 million to divide among the state’s best teachers; the state used teachers’ effectiveness ratings as well as SAT and ACT scores as the metric, with those scoring at or above the 80th percentile qualifying for a bonus. Bonuses of $10,000 each were assured for up to 4,400 educators, but if more educators than that qualified, bonuses would be decreased. It was named the Best and Brightest Scholarship program.

Just to be clear: The program uses the teachers’ own test scores, not their students’ scores. In other words: If you took the SAT back in 1980, for example, that would be the basis for whether you deserve a bonus now, in 2015, 35 years later.

It turns out that about 5,200 teachers ended up qualifying for the bonus program, netting them almost $8,500 each, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

But in a complaint filed Monday with the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the Florida Education Association alleges that the bonus program discriminated against older teachers who had trouble accessing their test scores, and against teachers of color who historically do worse on standardized tests.

“Too many high-quality teachers in Florida were denied access to this bonus program because of the unfair and discriminatory rules and short timeline set up by lawmakers,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a press release.

The problems cited had been apparent as soon as the budget had passed. Standardized tests have long been criticized for bias against students of color and low-income students. Many students don’t even need to take the SAT or ACT anymore to gain entrance to college, especially community colleges that use placement tests.

As for older teachers having trouble hitting the deadline, that complaint is harder to assess. Teachers had three months between the budget becoming law and an Oct. 1 deadline to submit test data; a spokesman for the College Board said score reports take up to five weeks to process. There was no SAT test date in that window, though there was an ACT date scheduled on Sept. 12. Some teachers did actually take advantage of that opportunity; even if they don’t get their scores in time for this year’s program, Gov. Scott and some legislators want to renew it for next year.

Updated to include a response from the College Board.

Image: Florida Gov. Rick Scott addresses attendees during his Economic Growth Summit in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in June. —Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog.