A Senate measure could make it easier for people to pass the Florida Teacher Certification Exam.
The Senate Education Committee approved SPB 7070 by a 5-3 vote on Wednesday. The bill would give aspiring teachers up to three years to pass the test instead of one year and reduce the cost of initial exam fees and charges to retake the test.
Another senate proposal (SB 1576) would also expand certification requirements, including waiving the test requirement “upon the applicant’s completion of a 2-year mentorship program and the recommendation of the mentor and principal.”
A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education says the department supports both bills.
Many people who hoped to become teachers in Florida have failed the test in recent years after revisions made the exam harder.
But the proposal approved by the senate committee does more than remove some of the barriers to becoming a certified teacher. It also aims to:
- create a Community Schools grant program for low-income families in need of social services, including health care;
- create the Family Empowerment Scholarship to help students from low-income families attend private schools;
- rename the teacher and principal bonus program as Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Program, which aims to improve recruitment and retention of educators, and removes ACT and SAT test score requirements.
Supporters of the proposal also say that parts of the bill would reduce the waitlist for low-income families who need grant money to attend the school of their choice.
Director of Coalitions at Americans for Prosperity Demetrius Minor said the proposal is “a step toward empowering students and families with educational freedom.”
But some oppose allocating public money for families to use at private schools.
“To ensure access to free, quality public education for all students is a constitutional mandate of this state,” said Rev. Russell Meyer of Tampa. “Scholarships to private education by themselves do not satisfy the mandate to provide free, public education to all students.”
Committee Chair and Republican Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. said the the scholarship is not taking money from anyone.
“These are tax dollars that belong to the taxpayers that we are appropriating so that the parent can make a decision and those dollars will go where that student is served,” Diaz said.
Thousands of teachers and hundreds of principles already earn bonuses statewide based on test scores. Teachers could earn $6,000 if they met eligibility requirements. Other awards include $1,200 and $800 scholarships.
But leaders at the Florida Education Association say the way to retain and hire more teachers in Florida is by increasing teacher pay. SPB 7070 would allocate bonuses to teachers, which some say creates a less reliable source of income than a pay increase.
“If state leaders want to enable districts to recruit and retain more qualified teachers, they must increase educator salaries,” the Florida Education Association said in a statement on social media. “Florida ranks 45th in the nation for teacher pay, and 47th in pay for education staff professionals.”
The median income for teachers in Florida is around $48,000, according to data.
Palm Beach County Schools Superintendent Donald Fennoy applauded the bills' attempts to fund scholarships for low-income students and fund school construction projects, but said he also believes higher pay, instead of a bonus, would help retain teachers.
Districts statewide are short certified teachers in critical areas such as science, math, and language courses, according to Florida Department of Education statistics.
“Our teachers need to be able to look down the road in 10 or 20 years and be able plan to start a family, buy a home and confidently retire at the end of their great career,” Fennoy said. “If they can’t have the opportunity to do these things, then we can’t expect them to stay in our classrooms.”
But Diaz rebutted opposition to the bonuses in his closing statements, saying higher pay for teachers is an issue educators should to take up with unions.
“There is a negotiation that goes on between those districts and those teachers unions and we are not responsible for that,” he said. “So they are the ones that set the salaries and we are sending something above and beyond.”