Teasing teachers in Florida
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist has become a big tease, but it’s hard to know if he is teasing teachers or his fellow Republicans in the state Legislature.
Crist has until Friday to decide what to do about legislation sent to him that would, among other things, end teacher tenure in Florida, link teacher pay to student test scores, eliminate experience and advanced degrees as a factor in teacher evaluation, create a slew of new standardized tests for kids to take.
It’s one doozy of a bad bill, and Crist has been suggesting he is on both sides of the argument. He’s publicly said he supports part of the bill, but also has concerns, including how it would affect learning disabled students.
Here’s where the real teasing comes into play: Crist was quoted in the Gainesville Sun as saying, “I am still listening to the people and there are a lot to listen to," the governor said. "The people are concerned about this and I am concerned about it."
Crist’s office has been receiving tens of thousands of phone calls and emails, almost all of them opposed to Senate Bill 6/House Bill 7189. The governor also mentioned publicly that he got a voice mail message from former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose Foundation for Florida’s Future is behind the bill.
Bush, naturally, urged Crist to sign it. Bush not only supports the bill but clearly was behind the creation of the legislation; the Senate sponsor, John Thrasher, was just recently installed as the Republican party chief of Florida with Bush’s help, and Thrasher introduced Bill 6 into the Senate with language that sounded exactly like a position paper on the foundation’s website.
Florida’s public education system has been in the hands of Republicans -- Bush for two terms and then Crist, for almost a dozen years. It makes you wonder why they keep saying it is so awful and needs to be drastically overhauled.
Could it be that their policies of emphasizing standardized tests over all else could be to blame?
If Crist is going to listen to anyone, it should be Tim McGonegal, superintendent of Manatee County Public schools. He wrote Crist a letter this week that helps explains why the Florida legislation is so awful. And people outside Florida should understand what is happening here to, because Bush and his allies are trying to push this into other states.
Here’s part of what McGonegal wrote:
During the last two years alone, the Manatee District has seen its annual operating budget slashed by more than $44 million. To deal with these cuts, our district has dramatically cut costs in all departments and eliminated 118 support positions. If enacted, SB 6 will result in the Manatee County School District’s budget being reduced by an additional $14 million for the 2010-2011 school year; and that is over and above an already expected cut in state funding for our district between $6 million to $15 million.
The additional cut in state funding resulting from enactment of SB 6 will force our district to eliminate elective offerings and other essential services to our students.
I believe this bill is flawed in many respects. Among the most troubling of these flaws are the apparent conflicts with the Constitution of Florida that the bill presents.
Article IX, Section 4 provides that the elected school board shall operate, control and supervise all free public schools within the school district, yet SB 6 usurps this authority by interfering with the collective bargaining process, specifying salary requirements, imposing prerequisites on the hiring and retention of employees, and tampering with the budgeting and expenditure of funds garnered from local property tax levies.
Please do not place more of a burden on the backs of our teachers during these difficult days when they are constantly being asked to accomplish more with less. Please don’t give your endorsement to this divisive and flawed bill. Please veto SB 6.
There are other reasons to oppose this bill, too.
For example, linking teacher pay to student test scores is a bad idea, even if the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, likes it, and even if states around the nation are jumping on the bandwagon so they can win federal funds in his Race to the Top school reform competition.
Crist is in a primary fight with a hard-line conservative who is supported by Bush, and may find it useful to veto the bill -- or send it back to an ad hoc committee for rewrite -- to gain support among the state's teaching force.
I suppose teachers won't care why he vetoes the bill as long as he does, though I also assume they understand that they are being used as a political football, which will continue to have harmful repercussions on their profession down the road.
Crist need stop teasing and just veto the bill. Now.
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| April 14, 2010; 3:19 PM ET
Categories: Teachers | Tags: Bush and teachers, Crist and teachers, Crist and teachers bill, Florida education, Florida school reform, Florida teachers, Florida teachers tenure bill, Jeb Bush, Senate Bill 6, bush and Florida educaiton, bush and teachers bill
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