Teacher raises may kick in this year – not 2014

Florida’s teachers could get raises as soon as this summer under a revised budget agreement state lawmakers hammered out Wednesday. The change means school employees won’t have to wait until June 2014 for a pay hike, as legislative leaders had decided earlier in the week. The latest agreement allows for the $480 million earmarked for school employee raises to be doled out as soon as local school districts and their unions decide how to divvy up the money based on student performance. “This is a step in the right direction,” said Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association. Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie said it’s a good thing the raises can be given sooner, but he warned teachers not to expect the $2,500 and $3,500 raises being mentioned in Tallahassee. “The dollars aren’t going to meet the expectations that have been set,” Runcie said. Besides the other instructional employees the Legislature added into the mix, Runcie said he still doesn’t know if raises for charter school teachers will also have to come out of the $47 million the district expects to receive. “The turkey at the table is only one size,” Runcie said. “The more people come, the less you’re going to get.” The proposal to delay the raises upset many school employees, who knew Gov. Rick Scott had been pushing for $2,500 raises for all teachers and didn’t understand why they would have to wait about 13 months to see the money. “They were confused and they were angry,” Ford said. Lawmakers agreed to move up the payout date after administrators told them the raises could be tied to student performance and still handed out before June 2014, officials said. The raises are to be based on student achievement during the current, 2012-13 school year, though the details would have to be negotiated by districts and their unions, according to the education association. School districts have teacher evaluation systems based on student performance, thanks to Florida’s 2011 teacher merit-pay law, though some pieces are in flux as the rules are phased in. Scott wanted across-the-board raises for all the state’s estimated 171,000 teachers, saying it made sense to boost pay before the full merit-pay law kicked in. His proposal was supported by local educators. “The sooner the better is my reaction,” said Debra Wilhelm, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teachers Association. “The teachers definitely need this money and they were hoping for this money. And for the legislature to agree to leave it a little more flexible to the districts so that there is the possibility of getting it this year, it’s fabulous.” Asked if she expected the raises to be implemented in Palm Beach County this year, Wilhelm said she was “hopeful.” But she wasn’t happy about the move to tie the raises to performance. “It’s not like we’re making hand over fist money in our careers,” Wilhelm said. “We’re 43rd in the nation for our average salary.”

The revised language also gives school boards the flexibility to develop their own merit-based systems for awarding salary increases, rather than adhering to a plan developed by the Legislature. "We all knew that the original language wouldn't work," said Jeff Wright, who oversees public policy advocacy for the Florida Education Association. "It took teachers, superintendents and the governor weighing in for us to make that point." Lawmakers first released the language on Sunday, drawing immediate criticism from the teachers' union. Miami-Dade Superintendent Alberto Carvalho and Broward Superintendent Robert Runcie turned up the pressure Tuesday by holding a joint press conference to express their concerns. Carvalho hopes to see the pay raises awarded as soon as possible, he said. The Miami-Dade school district is already contract negotiations with the United Teachers of Dade.




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Virtual schools report uncovers underperforming schools

In the last decade, although virtual schools have expanded rapidly there is little data to justify their growth. The National Education Policy Center (NEPC) released the first of a planned series of annual reports on the performance of virtual schools, the policy issues that virtual schools raise, and the available research evidence on virtual education. Virtual Schools in the U.S. 2013: Politics, Performance, Policy, and Research Evidence, is edited by Alex Molnar, a research professor at the University of Colorado. Contributing authors to the research brief include Larry Cuban of Stanford University. According to Cuban, "Policymakers know that business, civic and community leaders expect them to work tirelessly to improve student academic performance through every available means, including better school organization, governance, curriculum, instruction – and especially better technology. Unfortunately, good politics does not automatically result in good policy." The report offers a number of troubling statistics:

  • In the 2010-11 school year, only 23.6 percent of virtual schools made Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) compared to 52 percent for traditional and charter schools.
  • Three-quarters of the students in virtual schools are white, compared to the national mean of 54 percent.
  • Black students account for only 10.3 percent of the virtual school enrollment, compared to 16.5 percent for all public schools. The gap is even wider for Hispanic students, which is surprising given the large presence of virtual schools in states with large Hispanic populations like Arizona, Florida and California.
  • The number of students qualifying for free or reduced lunch in virtual schools is 10-percentage points lower than all public schools – 35.1 percent compared to 45.4 percent.
  • The proportion of students with disabilities being served by virtual schools is half the national average – 7.2 percent compared to 13.1 percent.
  • Profits, rather than student outcomes, is clearly the main driver behind the rapid growth of virtual schools.



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Lawmakers end subsidized tutoring

A last-ditch effort by South Florida lawmakers to keep millions of dollars flowing to private tutoring companies suffered a resounding defeat Wednesday, giving Florida school districts control over $100 million in federal education money for the first time in a decade. It happened when two Miami-Dade lawmakers tried to attach funding for subsidized tutoring into a fast-tracked bill that would expand online learning. Their fellow senators cried foul, citing an investigation by the Tampa Bay Times that showed criminals were profiting from the controversial program. "What's happening this year is we're having students that are not being served," said Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee. "I don't want to go and read some of the newspaper articles on my desk. Remember, there were rapists. There were child abusers. There were thieves. In my hometown, what we call hoodlums and thugs." Last year, Montford supported a bill that had continued the tutoring through the end of this school year. The measure, which passed late in the session, continued a private tutoring initiative begun by the George W. Bush administration in 2001 -- a program meant to help the poorest kids in the nation's worst schools. In Florida, supplemental educational services, as it was known, gave rise to a booming for-profit industry that has fought fiercely the past two years to retain its funding. In a series published in February, the Times revealed that lax state oversight allowed criminals to form companies and earn tax dollars tutoring needy kids. The newspaper also showed that companies repeatedly caught overbilling have continued to operate unchecked by state regulators.



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