In 2017, the FEA sued the Florida Department of Education for its discriminatory Best and Brightest program. We did this not just because we hoped that those who had been unfairly left out of the program would see compensation, but because the program was inherently unfair. FEA prides itself on always pursuing all avenues to oppose such blatantly biased programs such as Best and Brightest.
Our lawsuit established that Best and Brightest Bonus Scheme had a disparate impact on black and Hispanic teachers as well as teachers over the age of 40. This means that even though the state may not have intentionally discriminated against people, the result of including the standardized tests was that black, Hispanic, and teachers over 40 were far less likely to receive the bonus money.
The court initially ruled in our favor on the issue of race; unfortunately, the court dismissed our claim of age discrimination, stating that an individual is restricted from pursuing an age case which alleges disparate impact against the State (the DOE) because the 11th Amendment. The 11th Amendment prohibits the federal courts from hearing certain lawsuits against states.
What is the settlement?
The successful finding in the race case allowed us an opportunity to reach a contingent settlement with the state that will provide $15.5 million to be split among those who are eligible to receive settlement funds.
Am I eligible to receive settlement funds?
The settlement agreement has not yet been signed by the judge, but below is a synopsis of what we currently know:
- As a result of this settlement, many teachers who were unfairly excluded from Best and Brightest will be able to file a claim to receive funds they missed out on during the 2014-15 through 2017-2018 school years.
- Black and Hispanic teachers who earned highly effective ratings will be eligible to receive compensation for each year they were rated highly effective while the ACT/SAT requirement was in place.
How do I apply for the settlement funds?
When the judge accepts the settlement, he will also approve a claims process. That process has not been approved but here is what we expect:
- The Florida Department of Education (FLDOE) will work with districts to identify all eligible teachers. Everyone identified will receive notice via mail and email outlining the claims process.
- FEA will also publicize the claims form for anyone who is eligible but for some reason is not identified by the FLDOE.
- There is typically an appeals process in which individuals can provide proof that they are eligible and should be included.
When will I get settlements funds?
The governor must first sign the state budget, the judge must sign the final agreement, the judge must approve the claims process, and we must provide adequate time for people to make their claim so that the money may be distributed. There is much which still must be determined before funds will be distributed. Follow FEA on social media for updates or return to this webpage for updates.
If the FLDOE determines that I am not eligible, will there be an appeal process?
There will be a process for you to provide relevant documentation, but those details have not been agreed to or signed off on by the court.
Why didn’t the court rule for FEA on the age discrimination suit?
The 11th amendment restricts an individual (in this case FEA) from suing a state in federal court. We filed this suit anyway because we believed we had some good arguments and a blatantly flawed program that we hoped would allow us to avoid this immunity. We also originally named the individual school districts in the suit which might have allowed an additional avenue for recovery around this restriction.
The court did two things: (1) Ruled that the districts were not responsible for any monetary damages, which made proceeding against them irrelevant, and (2) Ruled that the 11th amendment prevented us from proceeding on the age claim against the Department. This effectively ended our ability to recover any money for our age class.
Unfortunately, age discrimination laws are much weaker than race discrimination laws in our country. FEA fights for our members every day for all the right reasons.
This court’s dismissal of our position regarding age brings to mind another recent federal lawsuit: Cook v. Stewart, which dealt with teacher evaluations and the Value-Added Model. In that ruling, Judge Walker upheld the legality of Florida’s evaluation system, but in doing so he wrote:
“The unfairness of the evaluation system as implemented is not lost on this court. We have a teacher evaluation system in Florida that is supposed to measure the individual effectiveness of each teacher. But as the plaintiffs have shown, the standards for evaluation differ significantly.
This case, however, is not about the fairness of the evaluation system. The standard of review is not whether the evaluation policies are good or bad, wise or unwise; but whether the evaluation policies are rational within the meaning of the law.”
How much will each eligible individual get from the settlement?
The Legislature allocated a total of $15.5 million for the settlement. There are a lot of variables that will impact the individual settlement amounts. Depending upon the number of eligible individuals, how many years they are eligible and how many actually apply to receive the funds will determine the amount each of the eligible individuals will receive.
What is the new Best and Brightest bonus program based on?
As a result of the restructuring of Best and Brightest brought about by our lawsuit, the program is now open to all K-12 instructional personnel not just teachers. While we will continue to fight for salary increases, this was a big step in the right direction. We remain opposed to bonus schemes, but we will also continue to advocate for pre-kindergarten teachers to be included in all bonus programs as long as those bonus programs exist. For more details visit the Frontline Blog.
The FLDOE’s records indicate I am white but my ethnicity is Hispanic. Will I be eligible?
The DOE will use both the race and the ethnicity column to determine your eligibility. The courts have held that for the purposes of this type of litigation ethnicity and race may be used. If the DOE records are incorrect, you will need to contact them.
I’m white. It doesn’t seem fair to me that there will be teachers who get the bonus just because of their race/ethnicity. Why are black and Hispanic highly effective teachers eligible to get the bonus but I’m excluded?
That is a great question, and you are 100% correct that there is nothing fair about Best and Brightest in general, and certainly nothing fair about the ACT/SAT requirements in particular. Regardless of race, there are many legitimate reasons that someone might not have taken a college admission test. And for those who did take the SAT or ACT, there could be plenty of good reasons—again, regardless of race—why they didn’t score in the 80th percentile.
However, research has shown that black and Hispanic students face an additional barrier when taking the SAT simply by virtue of their race. To understand how race plays a role in SAT scores it might be helpful to read this section of Joseph Soares’ book SAT Wars. You’ll see that in the selection of test questions for the SAT there is a distinct pro-white bias. While we can understand why some individuals might object to the unfairness of white teachers not being eligible for the settlement funds, we must stress that the ACT/SAT requirements were uniquely unfair to minority teachers.