Education is at the top of Florida lawmakers' agenda. Tuesday the house began the first of two days of debate on a bill that would set up a merit pay plan for teachers and end tenure for new-hires.
The Florida House of Representatives all about teacher pay Tuesday. Just 12 months after former Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a plan to tie teacher pay increases to student test scores, that plan is back, the topic of a two-day House session, with a final vote expected late Wednesday night.
“The primary goal is to A-be able to actually know who's an effective teacher, and second of all, be able to get to a point where we can put an effective teacher or highly-effective teacher in front of every student,” said Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami.
Republicans say they've taken the time to get things right. Among the changes, a special evaluation for special ed teachers. They'd be measured based on other factors like peer reviews.
Democrats don't think it's enough.
“How does taking away the voice of the teachers, taking away the right to collectively bargain for benefits, ensure the success of students?” asked Rep. Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.
Then, there's the bill's focus on eliminating the concept of tenure.
Dwight Bullard isn't just a democratic representative. He's also an 11th grade history teacher who feels threatened.
“At the end of the year, when June rolls around, every teacher's eliminated, and it's up to the principal to determine who comes back,” he said. “So, that means a teacher who's highly effective but, let's say, happens to be the union representative at the school and has caused heartburn for the principal may have to look over their shoulder as to whether or not they're going to be picked back up.”
Privately, top democrats say the timing of the debate - during the second week of the legislative session - is no coincidence. Many teachers can't make it here to protest because they have yet to go on spring break.
The senate passed the bill last week. It's less rigid than the one vetoed last session by Gov. Charlie Crist, but the Florida Education Association still has problems with it and the House is considering changes.