A bill to expand the controversial "Best & Brightest" teacher bonus program is ready for a full House vote, after clearing the 30-member Appropriations Committee this afternoon on a party-line vote.
HB 7069 was fast-tracked to the floor in the past three weeks, with only two committee hearings. It's unclear how fast the House will take up the bill; it could be as early as next week.
The expansion proposal allows more "highly effective" teachers and — for the first time — principals to qualify for an annual bonus. Instead of only using on the teachers' SAT or ACT scores from high school, teachers could qualify next year by also using graduate school entrance exam scores, like the GRE or the LSAT.
The number of educators who would be eligible for the money would increase greatly. Pre-K-12 Education budget chairman Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said he doesn’t yet have an estimate for how many might be eligible, but he told the Appropriations Committee funding it at $214 million -- as the House proposes to do -- is intended to keep the awards at around $10,000 per person.
With those figures, that would be enough to cover bonuses for potentially more than 21,000 teachers and principals statewide.
In 2015-16, about 5,300 teachers qualified and received $8,248 each. This school year, nearly 7,200 teachers qualified and each got $6,816. (There are about 188,300 certified teachers statewide.)
Democrats on the Appropriations Committee said they still don’t like the premise of rewarding teachers based on assessment scores and they want the Legislature to use the additional funding to instead find a way to raise the salaries of all teachers.
“We just need to give our teachers raises and stop beating around the bush in how we do it,” said Broward County Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.
Diaz blasted the Democrats’ opposition. “Here’s a bill that puts $200 million into teacher’s pockets and we’re saying ‘no,’” he said.