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House Republicans open up new line of attack on Scott's teacher pay plan

Despite calling Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $74.2 billion budget “thoughtful” and “fiscally sound”, Florida House Appropriations Chair Seth McKeel said the varying ways it provides raises among different groups of employees is raising concerns of fairness.

Scott is recommending giving each teacher a $2,500 across-the-board pay increase. For non-supervisory state workers, he is recommending an across-the-board bonus – not a permanent pay raise – of $1,200. Depending on the type of evaluations they get, these employees could receive an additional $2,500 or $5,000. Corrections workers, because of a drop in prisoners who return upon release, would get increases of between $500 and $1,000.

“It seems to treat different employees differently,” said McKeel, R-Lakeland, during Tuesday’s meeting with Scott’s budget director, Jerry McDaniel. “And we have consternation about that.”

Afterward with reporters, McKeel went further criticizing the proposed compensation, which is one of the budget’s key platforms.

“There are three different ways, and I’m concerned if that’s a defensible mechanism for dealing with employee pay,” he said.

That’s apparently a new line of attack for state Republican lawmakers, who initially opposed Scott’s hike in teacher pay because every teacher received it. They prefer hitching teacher pay to SB 736, which was the first bill Scott signed as governor and was championed by Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, who is now House Speaker.

The bill eliminated teacher tenure and added a merit pay plan tied to student achievement on standardized tests.

McKeel said told reporters Tuesday that “clearly, we think that merit is a viable solution.”

But the fairness doctrine – should all employees get the same type of pay increase – appears to be a new concern.

McDaniel explained Scott’s rationale for the pay. The raises for the corrections officers is for the drop in recidivism. Scott likes merit pay for state workers. And teachers, McDaniel said, deserve a pay raise because they just do, striking a note of support for teachers that would have seemed unimaginable two years ago when Scott cut lower education by $1.3 billion.

“He believes that one of our most valuable assets are our teachers,” McDaniel said. “They spend more time with our children than many of our parents do. He believes, across the board, they are underpaid. They make an average of $45,000, and they spend inordinate amounts of time, not only in the classroom but in their homes and on weekends, preparing for classes and spending time with students in terms of remediation.”