FL House Approves Teacher Bonus Program

Apr 13, 2017

Credit Tulane Public Relations

The Florida House has approved a plan to give bonuses to teachers and principals.  But critics take issue with handing out money based on test scores that are sometimes decades old.

Since 2015, Florida has given out bonuses to teachers under the best and brightest program.  To be eligible teachers must be rated highly effective in the classroom and score within the 80th percentile on a standardized test like the SAT.  In each of the last two years, state lawmakers have appropriated about 50 million dollars for the program.  But this year Rep. Manny Diaz (R-Miami) wants to make a bigger splash.

“This amendment conforms to the proposed house general appropriations act that includes a $200 million additional funds for the best and brightest teacher and principals program,” Diaz explains.  “It also changes the eligibility criteria to the 77th percentile for the exams listed in the bill.”

The changes would more than quadruple the money lawmakers have devoted to the program in prior years, expand eligibility to more teachers and for the first time include principals.  This week lawmakers began hashing the plan out on the House floor.  And many Democrats aren’t too thrilled with the idea.

“Looking at the provisions,” Rep. Shevrin Jones (D-Miami) asks, “are we not concerned that this will compromise our evaluation—the integrity of our evaluation system for our principals?”

Principals are eligible for a bonus based on how many best and brightest teachers they employ.  But some worry Diaz’s bill could encourage administrators to cook the books, because part of a teacher’s eligibility could be tied to classroom evaluations.  Diaz sidestepped the question. 

Orlando Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith raises another long-standing complaint.

“Is it still the case, that with this scholarship program that a teacher can qualify for the best and brightest scholarship based on an SAT or SAT exam they perhaps took 25 years ago?” Smith asks.

It is still the case, and Diaz’s bill expands the range of eligible tests to include post-graduate exams like the GRE or LSAT and lowers the qualification benchmark to the 77th percentile.

“The Senate budget, the governor’s budget as well as the state board of education have recommended that we slash some of the funding for this scholarship,” Smith adds.  “Why have we decided in this budget in the House to expand it exponentially when others are recommending the opposite?”

But according to Senator David Simmons, his chamber is ready to deal.  The Altamonte Springs Republican chairs the Senate budget committee for PreK-12 education.

“At this time we do not have a best and brightest allocation that is within this budget,” he explains, “but we do contemplate working with our colleagues in the House to expand the best and brightest program.”

Lawmakers are planning to start budget negotiations in the coming week.