State lawmakers take on ‘unsatisfactory’ teachers

Herald/TimesTallahassee BureauMay 3, 2013 

TALLAHASSEE -- Two days after the Florida Senate killed the parent trigger bill, one of the proposal's more controversial provisions found new life in the Florida House.

The language, which would prevent students from being assigned to "unsatisfactory" teachers for two consecutive years, was tacked onto a bill that would hold charter schools more accountable for their management and finances. The House approved the amendment and then the larger proposal Thursday in a pair of party-lines votes.

The proposal is now headed to Gov. Rick Scott.

Earlier in the week, the upper chamber defeated the divisive parent trigger, which would have allowed parents to demand major changes at failing public schools. But state Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, was working to protect a less-discussed provision of the bill.

Flores added the language about "unsatisfactory" teachers into the charter school bill Tuesday. The Senate signed off on the move.

House Democrats, however, said the state's teacher evaluation model was too flawed to distinguish unsatisfactory teachers.

"We need to wait until we have an evaluation system that evaluates teachers properly," said state Rep. Mark Danish, a Tampa Democrat, during the floor debate Thursday. "We're not supposed to be working out problems with the plane while in mid-flight."

State Rep. Michael Bileca, R-Miami, who carried the parent trigger bill last year, saw it differently.

"If you vote against this bill, you are voting against having our students who need (help) the most having the best teachers possible," Bileca said.

The House approved the amendment, handing a partial victory to advocates of the parent trigger.

Tia Young, a Tampa parent, said she was disappointed the trigger failed to win Senate support Tuesday. She saw Thursday's vote as a silver lining.

"Every child deserves an effective teacher," she said. "This will change a lot of people's lives."

The top advocate of the parent trigger, former Gov. Jeb Bush's education foundation, also welcomed Thursday's news.

"While some adamantly defended the status quo and ineffective teachers, those with students in mind prevailed," said Patricia Levesque, executive director of the Foundation for Florida's Future. "Accountability equates to results, and this bill language stands to benefit families no matter what their school grade."

Jeff Wright of the Florida Education Association said the teachers' union supports evaluations. Still, he had concerns with the amendment.

"We don't want incompetent teachers put in front of our kids," he said. "But we also believe people have to be treated fairly."

Beyond the teacher accountability provision, the charter school bill requires the state Department of Education to draft a standard charter school contract for all 67 school districts. The Legislature will consider the proposed contract next year.

The proposal also requires charter schools to adhere to tougher financial standards and restrict the length of employee contracts. And it also allows school systems to open "district innovation schools" that function like charter schools.

What's more, high-performing charter schools will be able to expand more quickly. "It's a good compromise," said Larry Williams of the Florida Consortium of Public Charter Schools.

Lawmakers initially tried to require traditional public schools to share unused space with charter school operators without charging rent. But state Rep. George Moraitis, R-Fort Lauderdale, removed that language at the urging of the teachers' union, school system officials and House Democrats.

The charter school bill wasn't the only big education policy pushed through on the second-to-last day of session. The Senate approved a virtual education proposal that will allow more private online learning companies, including some from out of state, to do business with the Florida's public school systems.

State Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, likened the proposal to "letting the outstanding (online education providers) from around the world come to the state of Florida, and allowing our teachers and students to decide what's best for them."

The digital learning proposal must win final approval Friday from the House.

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