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FEA alleges discrimination over 'Best and Brightest' teachers bonuses


Florida's largest teachers union is accusing the Florida Department of Education and the state's 74 school districts of age and racial discrimination against teachers because of how the controversial "Best and Brightest" bonus program has been implemented.

In a complaint today to the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations, the Florida Education Association alleges the program discriminates against teachers who are older than 40 and those who are minorities.

Only teachers who are rated "highly effective" and who achieved certain high marks on their SAT or ACT are eligible for the program, which was initiated this year. First-year teachers -- who wouldn't have been evaluated -- are exempt from the "highly effective" requirement. Lawmakers included $44 million in the 2015-16 state budget to fund the bonuses, with eligible teachers getting up to $10,000 each.

“Too many high-quality teachers in Florida were denied access to this bonus program because of the unfair and discriminatory rules and short timeline set up by lawmakers,” FEA President Joanne McCall said in a statement. “This bonus plan wasn’t thought out very well and wasn’t properly vetted in the Legislature and that has resulted in many good teachers unfairly denied access to this bonus.”

The FEA -- which represents more than 250,000 teachers -- says the program is discriminatory, because of the following reasons, which they also list in their complaint:

-- "No percentile data is available from ACT or SAT for teachers who took these tests before 1972, such teachers are disqualified from receiving the bonus."

-- "The Oct. 1 deadline for submitting applications for the bonus further discriminates against teachers older than 40 years old, because a disproportionate number of them took the ACT and SAT many years ago and were unable to get access to their scores from the testing programs before the deadline."

-- "The exemption of first-year teachers from the requirement that they provide evidence of being rated 'highly effective' under the respondent employers’ performance evaluation system further discriminates against and has a disparate impact on teachers older than 40 years old.  First-year teachers are overwhelmingly younger than 40 years of age."

-- "The bonus program also discriminates against African-American and Hispanic teachers by using the SAT and ACT as qualifiers. It has been well-established in the courts and peer-reviewed scholarship that the SAT and ACT are a racially and culturally biased tests that disparately impact test-takers on the basis of African-American and Hispanic race."

The FEA is seeking damages, including attorney's fees and costs. The school districts charged in the complaint include those of the state's 67 counties and seven special and lab districts recognized by the state. Read the full complaint here:  Download 12.21.15 EEOC Charge - FEA

Department of Education spokeswoman Meghan Collins said in a statement to the Herald/Times that the department had not received a copy of the FEA's complaint as of Monday afternoon.

"The department has no comment other than to state that, as always, the department will cooperate fully with any required regulatory process or review," Collins said.

Republican lawmakers want to renew the "Best and Brightest" program through legislation they're pursuing in the 2016 legislative session, which begins in January.