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Scott faces big fight in Capitol over teacher pay raises

Gov. Rick Scott's plan to give every teacher a $2,500 across-the-board pay raise is in for a rough ride in the Florida Legislature. House Speaker Will Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz on Thursday both reiterated their views that it's a great idea to pay teachers more money, but that it must be tied to performance in the claassroom.

Scott's proposal is to give every teacher in the state a $2,500 pay boost, and in separate interviews, Weatherford and Gaetz both seemed less than overwhelmed with enthusiasm.

Gaetz was more critical. He said he was "struck uncharacteristically speechless" when he learned of Scott's plan, and said Scott had an obligation to specify to legislators and the public where he would get the $480 million to pay for the raises in next year's budget (which Scott did not do).

"I think the governor would have more credibility with teachers if he would be able to identify where the money is coming from," said Gaetz, a former School Board member and elected superintendent in Okaloosa County. The senator said he was surprised when a visiting delegation of Panama City teachers reacted coolly to Scott's proposal in a Capitol visit this week.

Gaetz said Scott made his pitch for raises "in good faith," but he faulted Scott for not making distinctions between excellent teachers and mediocre ones. "The best teacher in Florida and the worst teacher in Florida should not be treated the same when it comes to this raise," Gaetz said, noting that until this week, Scott insisted that higher teacher pay be tied to performance. "A $2,500 per teacher across the board raise would seem to be counter-intuitive to what the governor has supported in the past."

Weatherford said that historically, longevity and college degrees have determined teacher salaries in Florida, and that while raises are laudable, a "merit pay component" has to be part of the conversation, he said.

-- Steve Bousquet

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