BY JAC VERSTEEG – PALM BEACH POST STAFF WRITER
Gov. Rick Scott has not been consistent on raises for Florida teachers. He made a $2,500 across-the-board increase one of his two priorities for this legislative session. While that raise would not be tied to a new, mandated evaluation system, he has defended the new evaluations as the proper basis for future raises, even while indicating that the evaluation system will need adjustments to be valid and fair.
The Legislature, on the other hand, is being consistent on teacher raises — consistently wrong.
House and Senate budget negotiators reportedly have agreed to set aside $480 million for school personnel raises. But the raises would not be across-the-board. Instead, legislators would tie it in some fashion to evaluations.
Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, defended the decision. “This is not new for the districts,” he said. “We’ve been moving toward merit-based pay increases for a while now.”
That’s true. The Legislature tried to mandate a radically new evaluation system in 2010. Then-Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed it. But new Gov. Scott made it a priority for 2011, and the Legislature eagerly complied. The problem is that the state has not been able to invent a fair, valid evaluation system.
Instead, the state has cobbled together a jumble of subjective judgments by school administrators blended with complicated algorithms based on high-stakes tests that in too many cases have no connection to the teacher allegedly being evaluated. As Florida Education Association President Andy Ford noted in blasting the Legislature’s decision on raises,” Two-thirds of Florida teachers are being evaluated on students they do not teach or on subjects they do not teach.”
So, Sen. Galvano is right that the state has been “moving toward” a merit-based system. But it isn’t there yet. Gov. Scott recognized that — and the fact that Florida teachers average $10,000 less than the average teacher salary nationally — when he sought the $2,500 across-the-board raises. Not only should teachers get those raises, implementation of the evaluation system should be postponed until the state comes up with a less absurd system.
Politics might explain some of this mess. Republicans might be challenging Gov. Scott on this issue to get a concession from him on another issue, knowing that he proposed the raises because of his unpopularity among teachers. Or the Legislature could just be acting in a knee-jerk, damagingly ideological way. On education, it’s been moving toward that brand of legislating for years.