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Why Florida Teachers Are Suing the State Over Its ‘Best and Brightest’ Bonus Program

A controversial teacher bonus program in Florida is the subject of a discrimination lawsuit brought on by the Florida Education Association (FEA) and seven teachers from South Florida.

Known as the "Best and Brightest" bonus program, the lawsuit charges that the program discriminates against black and Hispanic teachers and those over 40 because bonuses are in part based on teachers' ACT/SAT scores. The FEA alleges that teachers who took the ACT or SAT before 1972 are discriminated against by the program because their scores are unavailable, thus disqualifying them.

The Florida Department of Education and all 67 county school boards, which play a role in implementing the state program through reporting eligible teachers, are targeted in the lawsuit.

The “Best and Brightest” bonus program, which was implemented in 2015, has been the subject of controversy since its inception and stands as an example of "bad lawmaking," according to FEA President Joanne McCall.

"Instead of properly compensating the best teachers in the state, this program awards bonuses based in large part on the scores they received on their college entrance exams," McCall said in a released statement. "Many teachers in Florida today did not even take a college entrance exam if they started their college career in the state's community college system."

The 58-page lawsuit argues that the ACT/SAT score requirement not only has "an illegal disparate impact on teachers" based on age and race, but is unrelated to measuring job performance. Plaintiff attorneys John Davis and Kent Spriggs are seeking to recover bonuses that members of the class action lawsuit did not receive because of the program's stipulations and a to-be-determined amount in financial damages.

Though all of the state's 67 school districts are being sued as part of the lawsuit, Daisy Gonzalez-Diego, a spokeswoman for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, told The Miami Herald that while the decision is for the court to decide there's a general consensus amongst educators that "there are better ways to incentivize meritorious teacher performance."

The FEA estimates around 30,000 "highly effective" teachers statewide could be part of the class represented in the lawsuit based on their age being 40 or older, in addition to 4,000 top-rated black teachers and 7,000 top-rated Hispanic teachers.

The FEA currently represents more than 250,000 teachers and education staff throughout the state and has around 140,000 members. In January, it was estimated that just 7,200 teachers would get bonuses through the controversial bonus program. Last year's recipients received around $8,200 each.

This marks the second high-profile story of legal action threatened against the state in recent months. Just last month, several school districts banded together to challenge a law that would force school districts to share their tax dollars with local charter schools.

 

Article by Joel Stice, Education World Contributor

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