The devil is in the details: more government interference is not good for the classroom
By Paula Dockery
Had Senate Bill 6 simply rewarded exceptional teachers with extra pay, I would have supported it.
Had it simply phased out tenure for new and existing teachers, I would have voted in its favor.
Had it actually offered a way to remove bad teachers, I would have signed on as co-sponsor.
But as I have found so often in public life, the devil is in the details. And on close examination, SB 6 violates my core conservative principles – less government, more personal responsibility and lower taxes.
I believe any good education reform effort should include teachers in the challenge, not shut them out when big decisions are made.
In particular, I opposed SB 6 because:
– SB 6 is a Tallahassee power grab. Sponsors want to take local control of teacher evaluations, salaries and budgets away from Florida’s 67 elected school boards and give it to a Tallahassee bureaucracy. This violates Florida constitutional protections of local control for local schools and redirects local decision making to Tallahassee. We don’t need any more Tallahassee one-size-fits-all solutions for our communities or our schools.
– We can’t afford SB 6.SB 6’s passage and implementation was contingent on Florida receiving another $900 million in federal stimulus funds – borrowed money that the United States Department of Education denied to Florida just last Monday. Serious fiscal questions remain as to how we will pay for this new state government program that requires the Florida Department of Education to hold back 5 percent of a local school district’s funding every year. To avoid classroom cuts, school districts will have no option but to raise local taxes. Classroom funding should not be used to grow a new and bigger Tallahassee bureaucracy on the backs of taxpayers.
– SB 6 will destroy jobs. The bill makes it nearly impossible for someone not currently teaching to renew his or her teaching certificate. Teachers will not be able to return to work after raising their children. They will have their certifications threatened if they are activated for military duty, or otherwise unavailable to teach, for longer than one school year. And if a teacher can’t show yet-to-be-defined “learning gains” for four out of five consecutive years, the teacher will lose his or her license, and ability to make a living. What is not clear is what such learning gains will include or whether they will be measured on a student-by-student competitive basis, a teacher-by-teacher basis, an averaged-group basis or individual year-by-year-gains basis. The bill leaves fleshing out its critical components and practicalities to rulemaking to a Tallahassee government agency without providing meaningful guidelines or procedural protections, rendering the bill an unconstitutional delegation of legislative authority.
– SB 6 takes a blame-the-teacher approach instead of recognizing that individuals have personal responsibility for their decisions and behaviors. The sponsors put all responsibility for student performance on teachers, failing to hold parents or students personally responsible for their own roles in the education process. What if kids don’t come to school willing or able to learn? What if they don’t come to school at all? Teachers face all penalties without regard to factors outside of their control or influence.
– SB 6 denigrates the teaching profession and our public schools. It’s demoralizing to ask teachers to defend their teaching certificates and jobs each year, and it’s patently unfair to base half their pay on how well students perform on a single test. Our best teachers won’t want to work where we need them the most: in lower-performing schools or in classrooms with special-need students.
– SB 6 is more cloak-and-dagger, Tallahassee politics as usual. The bill’s sponsors are refusing to allow any amendments that might make the bill better. Instead, they are holding secret meetings and urging that the bill be passed without any amendment, or teacher input. This is not how reasonable people make sound public policy. This is politics as usual in Tallahassee. And that has to stop.
In an open forum with public debate and input, we can do better than this bill. Rewarding good teachers with good pay is good policy. But disguising an unfunded, $900 million dollar Tallahassee power grab of our local public schools as public-education reform, is not.
Paula Dockery is a Republican state senator and gubernatorial candidate from Lakeland. Click here for her campaign website.
This column first appeared in the Lakeland Ledger.