While Florida lawmakers agree that incentivizing the teaching profession to better recruit and retain quality education professionals should be a priority, they can't seem to agree on what incentives would be best.
At the heart of the issue is the state's controversial 'Best and Brightest' program, a scholarship program that provides hefty monetary rewards to teachers based on their SAT/ACT scores. Many argue that while the program can do a good job bringing recent graduates into the profession, it alienates veteran educators who may have taken these college entrance exams decades ago, if at all.
Last month, Florida's Governor Rick Scott released a state budget that allocates $58 million to providing incentives for the teaching profession—incentives that have no correlation to the 'Best and Brightest' program, effectively getting rid of the controversial bonus program once and for all.
"Unlike last year, Scott isn't recommending the controversial 'Best and Brightest' teacher bonuses, which reward 'highly effective' teachers based on their high school ACT/SAT scores," The Miami Herald reported last month.
"The bonuses—the brainchild of and a priority of the Florida House for the past few years—have come under severe scrutiny, because there's no proven correlation between high school test scores and one's ability to be an effective teacher."
This week, however, lawmakers indicated that they intend to push for more money that will ultimately go to expanding the 'Best and Brightest' program, not getting rid of it.
Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, the Senate's pre-K-12 education budget chairman said, according to The Miami Herald, "that the Florida House—under Speaker Richard Corcoran's leadership—was creating a plan to possibly spend $200 million to $250 million 'to deal with' and expand 'Best & Brightest.'"
Education professionals from all over the state were dismayed to hear the news, calling the program "gimmicky" and suggesting that lawmakers are avoiding the real issues that cause teachers to leave the profession.
"If it's another scheme like 'Best & Brightest' that doesn't address the core problems of paying teachers and education staff professionals adequate and competitive salaries, we'd have problems with it," Florida Education Association President Joanne McCall told the Miami Herald.
Scott's plan, instead, would focus on increasing diversity in the teaching profession, eliminating initial and renewal certification fees, helping school districts implement their own recruitment incentives, rewarding teachers in low-performing schools and pushing teachers towards rural areas.
Still, some criticized his plan for allocating $10 million to give teachers who score in the top 10 percent of the Subject Area Examination in the subject they are teaching a one-time hiring bonus.
Opponents say there is no correlation between recruiting the best performers in college and those who will be the best suited to teach in the classroom, highlighting the lack of evidence-based research on what defines an effective educator.
Nicole Gorman, Senior Education World Contributor