The state's largest teachers union has some harsh words for the Florida Senate, after Republican leaders agreed this week to compromise with the House and continue funding a controversial teacher bonus program for another year.
"The public should be outraged and Senate leaders should be ashamed," Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall said in a statement today. "This flies in the face of democratic principles."
The final state budget proposal that lawmakers will vote on on Friday includes $49 million in 2016-17 to reward “highly effective” teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores in what's known as the "Best & Brightest" program.
The full Senate has never voted on the policy, although several members wanted that opportunity this session. It's the second year in a row that the bonuses have been authorized solely through budget language.
The Florida Education Association, which represents more than 140,000 teachers and education professionals, has long opposed the program. The union is challenging it, arguing it discriminates against older teachers and those who are minorities.
About 5,200 teachers of the state’s nearly 172,000 teachers qualified this year.
“The Florida Senate is shoving 'Best and Brightest' down our throats,” McCall said. "The point of bills, committees and votes is so that statewide policy that impacts Floridians is thoroughly vetted and transparently scrutinized."
Many Democrats and some Republicans in the Senate had voiced concerns for the past couple weeks, fearing Republican leaders might agree to keep funding "Best & Brightest" although the Senate hadn't approved the policy.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, called the program "the worst and dumbest," and Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, said last week Senate leaders' decision “empowers the Senate leadership over the Senate members and it looks like they’re siding with the House members more than Senate members.”
Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon, defended the decision, saying the budget process is about negotiation and compromise. He said some of the Senate's priorities were met, so they agreed to support "Best & Brightest" as a priority of the House.
McCall said, "This is not Florida in the sunshine; it is Florida in a smoky back room."
"We hope Gov. Rick Scott will stand up for public education and veto the program when he receives the budget," the FEA said.