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Teacher pay, tenure bill glides along in Senate

After lengthy debate, a bill to reform teacher pay and tenure glided along in the Florida Senate Wednesday as expected. No amendments were tacked on to Senate Bill 736 to keep it on the fast track to Gov. Rick Scott.

"This bill focuses on what is best for students and is consistent with Race to the Top," said Sen. Stephen Wise, R-Jacksonville, the bill's sponsor. He referred to the federal grant program that will provide Florida with $700 million to reform education, including its teacher hiring and evaluation practices.

Senators rejected a proposal by Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, to offer three-year contracts for new hires instead of the one-year contracts proposed in the legislation. He framed his proposal as a way to give teachers job security and more time to appeal a negative evaluation. One Republican, Sen. Paula Dockery of Lakeland, favored the change. One Democrat, Sen. Gary Siplin of Orlando, said the amendment was unnecessary.

Debate on the bill centered on how much it would cost school districts to create tests that would be used to measure students' performance.

"I don't believe that it is possible to do this with the current appropriated dollars," said Sen. Nan Rich, D-Weston, who opposed the legislation.She pointed to the Hillsborough school district, which received a $100 million, seven-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop teacher pay reforms.

Republicans who backed the bill, including Dockery and Sen. Evelyn Lynn of Ormond Beach, also raised funding questions.

"Our funding for education is going to be cut severely," she said. "You've got to pay the local school districts for their teachers and their principals to work together to establish an evaluation plan. That takes money. If you're going to come up for the number of adequate and valid tests…then you've got to also fund the DOE to provide those tests."

Wise said the Legislature would have until 2014 to help fund the changes. "I expect the economy will pick up," he said. School districts, he said, have used funding as an excuse not to implement end-of-course exams mandated by the state. "I don't want to pick on school districts, but they have dollars to be able to do these things," he said.

After being rolled over Wednesday, SB 736 is still pending a third and final Senate hearing. A House version of the bill will likely be heard next week.