Florida Senate Passes Controversial Teacher Tenure Bill

John Thrasher
Sen. John Thrasher sponsored the bill to base teacher pay on student performance.
TAMPA (3-24-2010) -

On a 21-17 vote, the Florida Senate voted for a bill (SJR 6) that would largely eliminate teacher tenure, as well as base much of a teacher’s pay on student performance.

But several Tampa-area Republicans crossed party lines to vote against the bill, along with all the Democrats who voted.

If the bill passes the House and is signed into law, teachers could lose their certification if students don’t show significant learning gains for four out of five years.

They would no longer receive multi-year contracts. And, teacher salaries would no longer be based on their years of experience.

Instead, half of their evaluation would be based on how much their students improve on standardized test scores. Those evaluations would affect future raises.

The bill passed on a largely party-line vote -- all the Democrats who were there opposed it, as did four Republicans -- Senators Charlie Dean of Inverness, Paula Dockery of Lakeland, Dennis Jones of Seminole and Alex Villalobos of Miami.

Senator Ted Deutch said the bill is impractical and an insult to teachers.

"Let’s be clear about one thing. Testing is not teaching," Deutch said.

"And when we base this legislation on a whole series of new tests, we are taking a step that won’t just demonize all teachers, but it fails to respect the job that the overwhelming majority of teachers in this state do."

It’s a sentiment echoed by the Florida Education Association.

But the bill’s sponsor, Senator John Thrasher, said he took exception to that. His own daughter is a former teacher.

"She’s told me that she’s not fearful of this bill. Because she thinks that when this bill passes, it’s gonna inspire teachers to get into the classroom and do an even better job that what they’re doing now," Thrasher said.

Teachers in Hillsborough County will be exempt from the bill. That’s because Thrasher did not want to interfere with a $100 million grant the county received from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

The Gates plan would already make almost half of teacher pay in Hillsborough County based on teacher performance.

The bill now goes to the House, whose leaders have expressed some support for the ideas behind the bill, as has Gov. Charlie Crist.

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