The Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, along with seven Florida teachers are suing the state, the Florida Department of Education and all 67 public school districts. That includes university lab schools, Florida Virtual School and the Florida School for the Deaf and Blind. At issue: whether the state's “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program discriminates against black and Hispanic educators and those over 40.
In 2015 the Florida legislature allocated millions of dollars to reward teachers rated highly effective according to their evaluations. But as a condition of that money, lawmakers also mandated that in order to qualify, teachers had to be ranked within the 80th percentile according to their SAT or ACT scores. Newly hired and first year teachers were exempt from the evaluation requirement.
According to the federal complaint, the standardized test requirement does not have a bearing on a teacher’s job performance, nor is it necessary for the job.
The seven Florida teachers that have joined the lawsuit say they would not have qualified for the “Best and Brightest” program because, despite being rated as “highly effective”, none met the required SAT or ACT score.
According to the lawsuit one of the plaintiff’s, Palm Beach County Teacher Shannel Gordon, has been ranked by the Florida Department of Education as being in the top 10 percent of teachers statewide for “having a ‘high impact’ on students.” In 2015 she was also rated as a “highly effective” teacher yet did not meet the requirements for a bonus because she didn’t have a high enough SAT or ACT Score.
There are similar stories for the other plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
The group is claiming the law violates the 1964 Civil Rights Act which banned discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, sex and national origin. They also say the law is in violation of the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992 which, also bars discrimination against age, pregnancy, handicap or marital status.
Tallahassee Attorney John Davis, who is representing the plaintiffs, says 12-13 percent of Florida teachers are black and Hispanic, and yet only about one percent of them received bonuses under "Best and Brightest". He basis that analysis on records pulled from the Florida Department of Education.
“The FEA has brought this suit and to make sure our tax dollars are being spent wisely,” he says.
“The FEA believes how someone scored on a college entrance exam has nothing to do with what kind of teacher they are. And if you look at statistics…if “highly effective” is an indicator of performance, if you look at those people and the people who got it—you see this has an impact on persons over 40, African Americans and Hispanics. And neither the SAT nor ACT has ever been validated as correlated to teacher performance. some colleges and universities have also moved away from it.”
The Florida legislature expanded the program this year to make school principals eligible for the bonuses. The complaint has been filed in U.S. District Court.
Read the Complaint Below: