Union Opposes Bonuses for Florida Teachers

Published April 1, 2006

The Florida Board of Education unanimously approved a merit bonus plan on February 21 for the state’s public school teachers. It is the nation’s first statewide performance pay plan based on student achievement. Before the close of the business day, teachers unions had already filed a lawsuit against it.

Under the plan, known as the “Effectiveness Compensation” plan, or E-Comp, 5 percent or higher annual bonuses would be awarded to teachers whose students’ gains on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT), the state’s standardized measure of student learning gains, ranked in the top 10 percent.

Since 2002, state law has required that a portion of each teacher’s pay be based on student achievement. In a February 10 news release, Florida K-12 Public Schools Chancellor Cheri Pierson Yecke explained the E-Comp plan gives schools a “minimum framework” to comply with that law.

Derided as Luxury

Teachers unions claim the plan is unfair because it measures teacher performance on a single dataset, would infringe on their ability to engage in collective pay bargaining, and would create division among teachers. In Florida, teachers’ salaries are currently based on level of education and years of experience.

Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said another big problem is that the Sunshine State is losing teachers to other states and other professions because of low base pay. Florida’s pay is $6,200 below the national average while housing costs in the state have risen significantly over the past few years.

“It’s kind of like getting a big-screen TV when you have a hole in the roof of your living room,” Pudlow said. “This is something we’d be willing to talk about, but we are losing teachers [too quickly]. We need to solve the problem of having a reasonable salary before we start talking about extras.”

State Education Commissioner John Winn said in the February 10 news release that the plan is “a different way of doing business. If we are to attract and keep the best and brightest teachers, then we must reward excellence in what matters most: student learning.”

Superintendents Supportive

All districts were required to provide bonuses under the 2002 law, but last year 24 districts (36 percent) did not provide any bonuses for teachers, according to the Florida Department of Education’s E-Comp Web page. E-Comp would require that all teachers’ salaries be tied in part to their students’ performance, but individual districts would have to develop specific plans in negotiations with teachers unions. Teachers who have been disciplined would be ineligible for bonus pay. Because not all students take the FCAT, alternative assessments would have to be devised for their teachers.

At least one union, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents (FADSS), says it would like to work with the Education Commission to make the plan workable. FADSS President Michael Lannon told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on February 22, “We need to be your partner, and we need to have time to be able to do that.”

Jenny Rothenberg ([email protected]) is a public relations associate at Step Up for Students, a Tampa-based initiative of the Florida Corporate Tax Credit Scholarship Program.

For more information …

For more information on Florida’s performance pay plan, visit the E-Comp Web site at http://www.floridaecomp.com/ecomp.asp.