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Senate Education Panel Votes To Kill 'Best & Brightest' Teacher Bonus Program

It's been the subject of derision and lawsuits. Even Gov. Ron DeSantis has been critical of the program. Now the lights could be dimming on Florida's Best & Brightest teacher bonus program. A Florida Senate education panel got started on a repeal Monday.

Republican lawmakers say they had good intentions when they created the Best & Brightest program, but the execution may have been a bit flawed. 

"I think it's unfortunate...we couldn't find a process that guaranteed funds went directly into the hands of teachers and that's what the Best & Brightest process was intended to do," said Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland. She went on note the legisalture is limited in what it can do when it comes to salaries. Pay is negotiated beween individual school districts and their local union representatives. 

"Evidently, those we were trying to do that for thought there might be a better way...my goal will be to continue to look at ways we make sure the dollars get to the teachers that are performing and doing a great job in the classroom as well as other instructional personnel who could be part of that conversation." 

When the program was created in 2015, it tied bonuses to teacher evaluations and SAT and ACT scores. A lawsuit over the program ensued, with a judge finding it discriminated against older and minority teachers. Gov. Ron DeSantis pushed to revamp the program and the legislature dropped the SAT and ACT requirement. It also opened the bonuses up to school principals but added a requirement tying awards to school improvement.  

Now, Republican Sen. Rob Bradley believes the time has come to get rid of Best & Brightest. 

“These dollars should be spent on education but they can better deployed in different ways,” he told members of the Senate's Education committee Monday while introducing his repeal bill. The legislature allocated about $284 million to the program earlier this year. 

Bradley's repeal effort comes as DeSantis, State Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran and the Florida Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, are all pushing to raise teacher salaries. DeSantis and Corcoran want to raise starting pay to $47,500 making Florida second in the nation for starting teacher pay. The union wants to see those raises also go toward seasoned teachers, and other school-related personnel are calling for the state to allocate funding to their employees as well.

DeSantis also wants a new, $300 million bonus program that rewards teachers and school principals if their school can show improvement. Both the raises and the new bonus program would cost the state an additional $1 billion, and legislative leaders have expressed concerns about whether they can do both and to the degree DeSantis wants.

The FEA is also critical of bonus programs in general. 

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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