Florida Enters the Race for a Second Chance at Millions

Changes Make the Difference in Race to the Top 2

Political leaders in Florida have made this year a tumultuous one for public education. We all know about the much maligned Senate Bill 6 (SB 6), which was passed by the Legislature but vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.


SB 6 would have provided sweeping changes to public education in Florida. It would have gutted collective bargaining on the local level and it would have prohibited school districts from considering length of service and advanced degrees earned in setting local salary schedules. The bill would have based at least half of a teacher’s evaluation and continuation of one’s teaching certification on standardized tests, most of which were not yet developed using standards and calculations that had not been developed. And it would have eliminated state participation in the National Board Certification program.


SB 6 was developed to go along with the Florida Department of Education’s application for the federal Race to the Top education grant. This grant, which is to be awarded in two phases, was the Obama administration’s attempt to seek bold education reform with the full cooperation of the education community. Unlike other reforms we’ve seen over the past dozen years, like Florida’s A Plus plan, this attempt at reform expressly sought input and buy-in by everyone in the education community, including teachers and their unions.


The Florida Education Association, your statewide affiliate, participated last year along with the state DOE, and representatives from school districts, school boards and superintendents in a discussion about what Florida’s application for the first phase of Race to the Top would look like. Those discussions led to an agreement on a list of guiding principles to ensure a common understanding by all involved in seeking this federal grant seeking process. Those principles included:

  • Focusing on raising student achievement, particularly for low performing students.
  • Using an approach to first test bold ideas on a small-scale basis to prove their effectiveness. These would be based on evidence or research-based best practices.
  • Local district participation would be by choice not by mandate.
  • The proposal would address all grant requirements and focus on sustainable policies.

The grant application developed by the state DOE ignored those principles and pushed for a broader approach. Instead of what everyone agreed on, the DOE pursued a strategy that sought districtwide implementation of all the grant requirements. These would have altered your work day and decreased planning time, changed the evaluation system, created a new teacher compensation system and greatly increased student standardized testing. In addition, the costs of implementing these changes would have greatly exceeded any money that would have come to Florida during the length of the four-year federal grant and would have left the state with a financial burden once the grant ended.

We wouldn't go along with those changes and Florida was not awarded a grant in the first phase of Race to the Top, largely because the state ignored the requirement for buy-in by affected parties.

When the governor vetoed SB 6, he also appointed a working group to improve Florida’s proposal for the second phase of the Race to the Top grant. This working group was drawn from a wider group of participants with an interest in public education. FEA President Andy Ford was a member of this group, as was Kim Black, the president of the Pinellas Classroom Teachers Association. Also in the group were two superintendents, two school board members, two Republican legislators, and a representative from the Florida PTA, the state Chamber of Commerce, a disabilities group and a former statewide teacher of the year.

In short order, this group approved a plan that mirrored the original intent on Race to the Top listed in the principles above. Florida’s round 2 Race to the Top application differs significantly from the first round application and from SB 6.


This is a better approach because it gives us an opportunity to show the public and political leaders our commitment to improve instruction and student achievement. It will also allow us to focus on the lowest performing schools in the state and it will provide some funding to build systems for evaluations. It also provides for local bargaining within a framework. Finally, it provides for a stakeholders’ task force for monitoring the grant.


This isn't a perfect solution, but it's vastly better than what we have seen this year. And perhaps this can provide a framework for all of us to work together to make the needed improvements to our public schools in the months and years to come.


Florida Educators Look for More Collaboration in Second Phase of Race to the Top Grant

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