Scott to seek pay raise for Florida teachers
With Florida expecting its first budget surplus in six years, Gov. Rick Scott wants to spend a chunk of it on higher pay for teachers -- a proposal some see as more of Scott's newfound support for public schools. Scott will unveil his proposal today, including his recommended amount of the raises, when he visits Ocoee Middle School near Orlando in the hub of the I-4 corridor that's pivotal in statewide elections. "It's good for teachers, it's good for students, and it's good for the state," Scott said Tuesday. But skeptics see a governor hobbled by low popularity numbers in campaign mode, trying to prove he's an ally of public education. "Tell him to send the money, but no one is fooled by this," said Karen Aronowitz, president of the 22,000-member United Teachers of Dade in Miami. "He's just restoring money that was already stolen from teachers. He can campaign all he wants." The average teacher salary in Florida is among the lowest in the country, at about $46,000 a year, and lags the national average by about $10,000. While the money may be welcome, teachers may not be as quick to embrace Scott. Many teachers remain angry at Scott for cutting $1.3 billion to schools from his first budget; for signing a teacher evaluation law that he now says must be reworked; for backing a merit pay system tied to students' standardized test scores; and for requiring teachers to contribute 3 percent of their pay to their pensions, an action upheld last week by the Florida Supreme Court. Scott in recent months has gone on a listening tour at schools, proposed more professional teacher training and declared emphatically in interviews that "I like teachers." "Obviously, it would be a little hard to believe what he says," said Lynne Webb, president of the United School Employees of Pasco, noting that Scott championed $1 billion in additional funding for schools in the current year's budget after he cut $1.3 billion the year before. "It's hard not to be skeptical," said Jean Clements, president of Hillsborough's teacher union. "But it's heartening to at least hear a governor say that he wants to give raises to teachers." The statewide union for teachers, the Florida Education Association, has long been closely aligned with the Democratic Party. Union leaders strongly backed Scott's Democratic opponent, Alex Sink, in 2010, and the union's lawsuit against the 3 percent pension plan contribution led to last week's court ruling. (Scott had proposed that public employees contribute 5 percent). Citing that 3 percent cut, FEA President Andy Ford said: "A 3 percent raise would just put us back to zero." Still, Ford said, Scott would be the first governor since Democrat Bob Graham in the early 1980s to advocate higher salaries for Florida teachers, but the proposal isn't as simple as it sounds. Ford said teacher salaries are negotiated county by county, and while a budget directive from Scott and the Legislature will carry weight, county school boards will decide how to spend the money. It could also raise fairness questions if support personnel aren't given raises, too. "It could be complicated," Ford said, noting that school districts have asked for up to $100 million to beef up security on campuses after the mass killings at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn. "He can provide the money and he can strongly urge them. But he can't just rule that it will be done." The governor will release all of his detailed budget recommendations next week, a step that sets in motion more than two months of back-and-forth negotiating with the state House and Senate. The Legislature writes the state budget, but the governor can veto individual line items. It will be the first time in years the Legislature actually has new money to spend. Chief state economist Amy Baker has told legislators that the state could have a surplus of up to $437 million next year as the state's economy shakes off the effects of the recession. Rep. Betty Reed, a Tampa Democrat who serves on the House education committee, said voters will plainly see Scott's true reason for pushing a teacher pay raise. "It's election time. That's what's happening," Reed said.
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Should Florida postpone implementation of the Common Core?
Florida school district superintendents have begged for relief when it comes to implementing the Common Core State Standards, saying they don't have enough time to prepare in advance of the 2014-15 scheduled start date. At least one state lawmaker has heard the cry. State Rep. Michael Clelland, D-Lake Mary, filed legislation Tuesday that would give districts another two years to get ready. HB 377 is a simple three-sentence proposal to have Florida public schools begin using and assessing the CCSS in 2016-17. It does not seek to change the state's fundamental accountability approach: "Developed to ensure that students consistently receive a high-quality education and that teachers implement effective strategies by providing benchmarks for skills and knowledge that their students should attain, the Common Core State Standards shall be assessed for accountability purposes and shall affect the performance evaluation of students, instructional personnel, and school administrators." Clelland could not be reached for comment. Some key legislative leaders have signaled their willingness to consider delaying timetables for implementation of the several major education changes coming in the next two years. Should Common Core get more time to come to fruition?
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