Tallahassee, Florida - The Florida Senate has passed its version of a teacher merit pay bill that would make dramatic changes to the way teachers are paid in Florida.
The measure now goes to the House. The legislation would tie teachers' salaries to their students' test scores, create a new evaluation system for teachers, eliminate tenure and require annual contracts for new teachers.
Teachers would be evaluated over three years and 50 percent of that evaluation would be based on the test results of their students.
Supporters say it's time that Florida recognizes and rewards the best teachers and takes action to get rid of ineffective ones. They argue the current system of tenure guarantees teachers a job for life.
Sen. Anitere Flores calls the current system for paying teachers an injustice. "I think we're sending a very strong message that the state of Florida wants young people from across the country, come to Florida because we are going to pay you for your hard work."
But opponents say the idea that you can operate schools like a business, by crunching the numbers and coming up with a measure of teachers' effectiveness, is wrong.
Sen. Nan Rich says it's not that easy. "Teachers and students aren't just widgets coming off the assembly line that you can run through a quality control department and definitively label them as satisfactory or unacceptable. They're human beings who can't be, and don't deserve to be, reduced to a single number on a piece of paper."
Sen. Eleanor Sobel argues the idea that merit pay affects student achievement is flawed. "There is no conclusive evidence whatsoever that merit pay will lead to higher student achievement. One only needs to read the Vanderbilt University study in which it was found that there was no difference in the test scores of students whose teachers were offered and received a bonus than students whose teachers were not offered and did not receive a bonus."
Sen. Evelyn Lynn says the legislation is long overdue. "If you vote for this bill, you will be voting for professionalism for teachers for the first time. This is as close as we've ever have gotten. You've got to vote for this bill and if you vote against it, then you better go back to the Dark Ages because then you are not with this world."
Gov. Rick Scott said he was excited that the bill passed. "We want the best teachers to stick around and by making sure we pay the most effective teachers more, we'll do better."
This year's teacher merit pay bill is a revised version of last year's legislation, which sparked protests and was vetoed by former Gov. Charlie Crist.