In defending their decision to put the "Best & Brightest" teacher bonuses into the annual state budget again, Republican Senate leaders argue that the controversial program "was heard" in the Senate this year, as members wanted.
There were a few informal discussions, but the only vote cast (so far) on the policy by itself was in January before the Senate Pre-K-12 Education Committee -- where it advanced by a single vote.
Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, was the deciding vote in that decision, which averted what could have been an early defeat for the contentious policy this session.
She said at the time, and again Monday, that she opposes the program but voted in favor of the bill then only to get it out of committee.
The program rewards "highly effective" teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores -- an unproven correlation that most Democrats and some Republicans don't support.
Detert said Monday she wanted to "get it to the floor and have an open discussion about the substance of the bill itself. It's too bad we didn't get to that point."
"I would rather vote it down and kill it permanently, because it’s the worst and dumbest," Detert added, "but if they put it in the budget, I have no choice but to vote for the budget."
The standalone bill -- sponsored by Sen. John Legg, R-Trinity, which would enact the policy in state law -- never got another hearing.
The program has since been attached to a wide-ranging education bill (SB 524) that cleared the Appropriations Committee but has since been postponed for several days on the Senate floor.
In the meantime -- regardless of the pending floor action -- Senate leaders say they have agreed to fund the program another year through the budget, "in deference" to a priority of the House. The exact funding amount has yet to be released; the House wanted to increase the funding by $1 million for a total of $45 million in 2016-17.
Detert and Legg are among those rank-and-file senators who oppose that deal.
"I know Sen. (Don) Gaetz tried very hard in negotiating with them (the House) and they have been drawn a line in the sand on that from over in the House for two years now," Detert said.
Detert said she feels "like I’m voting against my own family," because her daughter-in-law is a teacher, who won't get the bonus.
"She teaches gifted science, 20 years now, and someone coming in the door who never taught a day will get the bonus -- and she won’t. It's not fair," she said.
In order to be eligible, teachers have to be rated "highly effective" and have scored in the top 20th percentile in the year they took their SAT/ACT exam. First-year teachers, who have yet to undergo a performance evaluation, can qualify solely on their SAT/ACT score.
Advocates for the program in the House -- including the next House speaker, Rep. Richard Corcoran, R-Land O'Lakes, and Miami Republican Rep. Erik Fresen -- argue the bonuses serve as a retention and recruitment tool to encourage smart high-school students to enter the teaching profession.