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Education

Higher Ed Funding, Teacher Bonuses Move Forward

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Proposals adding performance funding for colleges and universities into law passed House and Senate committees on Thursday, but the legislation faced concerns over university standards and a House-backed plan to reward teachers for their test scores.

The House Education Committee voted 14-3 for its version of the bill (PCB EDC 16-03), over the objections of some of the panel's Democrats. The Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee pushed the bill forward on a 6-1 vote, but only after removing the teacher bonus program.

The "Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program" would give an annual $10,000 bonus to teachers who are highly-rated and whose SAT or ACT scores rank in the top fifth of test results. The program was temporarily put in place in this year's budget at a cost of more than $44 million.

But critics say the focus on test scores is misplaced, and that a teacher being intelligent doesn't guarantee success in the classroom.

"Those of us who follow sports or play sports know that just because a guy can run really fast doesn't mean he makes a great wide receiver, or just because a guy can shoot a basketball really good doesn't make him a great basketball player," said Rep. Reggie Fullwood, D-Jacksonville.

Rep. Joseph Geller, D-Aventura, said the state should have a bonus program for educators, but "that's just not how you determine who are the best and brightest teachers."

Supporters said that missed the point. Rep. Mike Bileca, R-Miami, conceded that being intelligent as measured by the SAT or ACT doesn't ensure a teacher will perform well.

"But this is the beginning ingredient that you need for a great teacher," he said. "It's one of the core components."

With little discussion, the Senate pulled the teacher bonus language from its version of the legislation (SB 524). Senate Education PreK-12 Committee Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he wanted his committee to get a chance to look at the idea before it moved forward.

A separate measure dealing with the scholarship program has been filed, and Legg promised to take it up quickly in the annual legislative session, which begins in January.

There are also concerns about some of the standards that would be used for the performance-funding measures for colleges and universities, which bring with them the potential of losing state money. While the performance-funding system is already in place, the new measures would add it to state law.

Democrats specifically questioned a provision that would focus part of the university formula on the wages of students who graduate.

"I'm afraid that what's going to happen is, career placement offices within our universities and colleges are going to start really looking at only pushing students to high-wage professions," said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel-Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat who voted for the House bill. "And I'm concerned about that because some of the things that we need may not be completely high wage."

But Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican sponsoring the measure, said not having the wage provision brought its own issues.

"In the absence of having that metric matter, potentially, theoretically a university would have no care really as to whether or not their students happen to be making $20,000 less coming out of their program than another one," Fresen said.