Standoff beween budget negotiators and Scott over teacher raisesby John Kennedy | April 22nd, 2013
Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a sweeping education bill Monday, even as the focus on Florida schools is being largely overtaken by a battle between the governor and legislative leaders over teacher pay.
Flanked by university presidents, lawmakers and other education leaders, Scott signed SB 1076, which would overhaul high school and higher education.
The legislation creates two designations for high school degrees, each with different requirements. One is aimed at encouraging students to work toward industry certification.
The bill would also set out standards for universities to be recognized as “preeminent universities,” with one of those schools positioned to run an online institute to encourage internet-based education, a priority of House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
Weatherford called the legislation “transformational.” Scott also praised the measure for helping connect students to the state’s evolving economy.
“We should all be proud of how this will help children get jobs when they finish their education,” Scott said.
But House and Senate budget negotiators have darkened one of Scott’s top priorities: $2,500 pay raises for teachers. While the proposed budget being hammered on now settles on the $480 million Scott needs to achieve that goal, lawmakers want to broaden the pool of potential recipients and tie the raises to merit.
Including guidance counselors, librarians and other non-teachers in the eligible pool would potentially shrink the amount of individual raises.
Since there isn’t a plan in place to enact merit-pay raises, that also could delay getting the money into teachers’ hands, critics said.
“Despite the fact that teachers in Florida make $10,000 less than the national average, much-needed pay raises for next year will be based on a system that doesn’t make a lick of sense,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union.
“Pay raises for other state workers like law-enforcement officers and firefighters aren’t tied to a ridiculous evaluation system,” Ford concluded.
Senate Education budget chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, said negotiators are still refining how the merit raises would be distributed. But he said it would not be difficult for the state and school boards to devise a system.
“I don’t think that’s a legitimate concern,” Galvano said.
Scott, though, after signing the education bill into law, said he was not bending on the $2,500 raise.
“I have my priorities, the House and Senate have their priorities,” Scott said. “We have two weeks left in session. We’ll see how well each of us get our priorities…I believ we’re going to have a great session.”
He added, “Our K-12 school system is doing a great job…The right thing to do is reward our teachers with a $2,500 pay raise.”