Florida Educators Turn Back Anti-Teacher Bill

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Grit, determination and grass-roots action made the difference for Florida AFT members, who succeeded in defeating controversial legislation in their state that would have used student test scores to target teacher rights and collaborative education reform.

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist announced that he would veto the bill on April 15, after speaking with hundreds of teachers across the state and receiving more than 100,000 letters and e-mails opposing the bill, known as S.B. 6. It would have based more than half of teacher pay on student test scores and would have placed educators' certifications at risk if they failed to show "effective performance" based on those scores.

Under the legislation, newly hired teachers also would have remained on probation for five years and then worked under annual contracts for the remainder of their careers. And students' performance on tests would have determined which teachers lost employment during layoffs.

The bill "was formulated without an ounce of input from anyone within the public school community," says Florida Education Association president Andy Ford, who also is an AFT vice president. "Teachers, administrators and parents weren't consulted, and their views of this radical legislation were dismissed repeatedly by many legislators. But Gov. Crist listened."

"There is a right way and a wrong way to move schools forward. I am grateful that Gov. Crist understood that [S.B. 6] was the wrong way," AFT president Randi Weingarten says. The bill "was pushed through the state Legislature over the objections of parents and teachers, and sought to turn public education into an ideological petri dish to test ill-conceived experiments."

The episode should serve as notice about the need for collaboration, adds Weingarten. "We hope that, going forward, all those with an interest in improving Florida's public schools will work cooperatively to adopt programs that are good for kids and fair to teachers." [Mike Rose, AFT press release, Florida Education Association]

April 15, 2010