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Monday, December 19, 2011

Unmasking a Two-Year Deception: Florida Republicans Never Intended to Fund Merit Pay

From Scathing Purple Musings

by Bob Sykes

The Palm Beach Post’s editorial page editor, Randy Schultz, has joined the drum line across the state in excoriating Florida’s republican policy-makers on just about every issue on education. But Schultz is onto to the fact that state republicans never intended to fund its own merit pay program.

Last Monday, though, Florida Education Commissioner Gerard Robinson met with The Palm Beach Post Editorial Board. We asked who would pay for merit pay. The state? Nope. “It will be up to local school districts,” Mr. Robinson said. “It always was going to be state and local.”

In other words, school districts that already face budget cuts for next year – about $53 million, in Palm Beach County’s case – will have to find money for a program they didn’t want. If the districts don’t find the money, the Legislature will blame them for failing to support good teachers, blocking education reform and undermining Florida’s economic future. Or worse.

It’s typical Tallahassee, which supports public education right up the point of paying for it.

Further, Commissioner Robinson is hardly the person to claim that it was “always” going to be a state-local split. He was hired in June, three months after Gov. Scott signed the merit-pay bill. Commissioner Robinson came from Virginia having no connection to Florida.

Schultz is correct. Robinson wasn’t around when the lie began. Perhaps it did when speaker-in-waiting Will Weatherford laid the groundwork in December of 2009. The FEA originally opposed Race to the Top (RttT). Weatherford took the opportunity in a Gainesville Sun op-ed to rip the state’s teachers and tell voters that RttT funds would be used to “provide real financial rewards for excellence.”

Last week, the President of the Florida Education Association (FEA) issued a public letter to local education associations across the state, urging them to not support the Florida Department of Education’s efforts to participate in the federal Race to the Top program and continue reforming Florida’s schools by rewarding excellent classroom teachers.

Disappointing? Yes. Surprising? No.

After all, the FEA has long been in the business of resisting innovative education reforms in favor of protecting the status quo. Instead of supporting a program that will give Florida’s teachers, their members, real financial rewards for excellence in the classroom, the FEA has chosen to play politics and fight to sustain a failing system that rewards teachers only for longevity, not for performance and results.

As Florida looks at a bleak economic forecast that could force reductions to the education budget, the FEA is urging local union groups to sabotage the state’s efforts to bring in a potential additional $700 million in funding for our teachers and our schools. Frankly, it’s simply irresponsible for the FEA to jeopardize Florida’s ability to participate in the continued efforts to reform education and improve teacher quality and instruction in low performing schools

As readers of this blog know, SB736 sponsor Steve Wise said on the floor of the Florida senate just four months after Weatherford’d op-ed that RttT would be going toward “infrastructure”; not merit pay. (See the video here at Grumpy Educators) Did Weatherford know then that he and his colleagues never intended for RttT funding to now pay for merit pay? Weatherford’s never had to answer the question, but his op-ed served the purpose which benefited both him and his party in establishing the state’s teachers in a negative way.

Schultz’ conclusion couldn’t be much more condemning. He writes:

Almost everything that the Legislature has done in the past 12 years regarding public education has been wrong. In 1999, the Legislature based public education on a standardized test given two-thirds of the way through the school year and on school grades that are based on that test according to a formula that has changed almost every year.

Now comes merit pay, and because of Commissioner Robinson we know that, once again, Tallahassee is prepared to blame school districts for problems while sending them the bill – with gusto.


But Schultz doesn’t use the description that most shows republicans like Wise and Weatherford to be hypocrites: Unfunded mandates. Few labels have gotten more traction for Republicans in state capitals and Washington than this. It remains to be seen which reality will cost them more in Florida: The deception or the unfunded mandates.

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