Add Gov. Charlie Crist's potential rival in the U.S. Senate race to the long list of people lobbying him on Senate Bill 6.
Democratic contender Kendrick Meek told Crist the bill sends "a terrible message" in a letter Monday.
Read the letter after the jump.
I appeal to you today, both as a citizen of the state of Florida and as a parent to withhold your signature from and, instead, to veto SB 6. You know better than most my undying support for improving our public schools. But, current events during this legislative session show that not everyone in Tallahassee shares in that support.
This past Thursday, April 8, 2010, leadership in the Florida legislature took out their aggression on Florida’s public school students, teachers, and parents by putting the issue of class size back on the ballot. It has been less than eight short years since Florida’s citizens were clear that they wanted smaller class sizes. In each of the seven years since the implementation of the class size amendment, our students have made improvements in their scores, and teachers have cited more satisfaction in their work environment and their ability to reach the children under their charge. While I was disappointed to read of your recent support of the proposed amendment, I have little doubt that come November, voters will beat back this latest on a long list of attempts to undermine their wishes and play a game of bait-and-switch as to the actual size of their children’s classrooms.
On the very next day, in yet another swipe at the Florida Constitution, the legislature passed SB 6 and sent it to your desk. This bill seizes control of educational decision making from the local governments as directed by the Florida Constitution and gives Tallahassee control over local school budgets and teacher evaluations. The blame-the-teacher tone of SB 6 does nothing to improve the conditions of Florida’s schools, but instead, will make recruitment and retention of teachers an impassable obstacle.
I believe that much of what we describe as a teacher shortage in Florida is more accurately described as high attrition and poor retention rates of teachers. We lose many or our teachers within the first three years of hire and over 40% resign by their fifth year according to Florida DOE statistics. A vast majority of those who leave cite poor pay, poor working conditions, and poor teaching conditions as the reason they leave. Teachers today are faced with increasingly high standards for student performance, while faced with an ever-growing list of challenges and demands from a less compliant and more troubled population of students.
Now, SB 6 says that a teacher’s salary will be based partly on the learning gains of their students based on yet another set of time-consuming and stressful standardized tests. Yet, there are few if any researchers who believe that standardized tests are accurate indicators of whether a child is learning. Further, the bill eliminates due process and places all new teachers on annual contracts which may be non-renewed for any reason, including those which have nothing to do with classroom performance, and without recourse. The bill prohibits recognition for years of service or advanced degrees in determining teachers’ salaries, and all incentives for teachers to receive advanced degrees or advanced certification are eliminated.
Not only is this bill lacking in actual attention to meritorious work by our teachers, it provides a disincentive to go the extra mile for students who need the most help. There is little to no incentive for teachers to seek out the students who may have the most difficulty succeeding in the classroom, as it could likely cost them their job under SB 6.
Equally disturbing, however, and a major reason that I urge that you issue a strong veto to SB 6, is the terrible message it sends. The message of SB 6 is that rather than collaboratively looking to improve education, Florida’s legislature chooses to cast blame on its teachers for the failure of all stakeholders to prioritize education. Instead of building systems of support for our school communities, and providing its teachers and administrators with the tools they need to be affective, legislative leadership in Florida has chosen to watch our class sizes rise, while stripping away basic worker protections and burdening schools with more testing and paperwork.
SB 6 is the wrong message to send to Floridians, the wrong way to show undying support for providing a world-class education as an investment in Florida’s future.
I strongly urge you to send the right message by vetoing SB 6.
KENDRICK B. MEEK
Member of Congress