State Politics

GOP ready to push through ‘teacher tenure’ bill

TALLAHASSEE — House lawmakers have been warned: Republican leaders do not want to see any amendments to the widely opposed “teacher tenure” bill because they want to push it through to the governor’s desk, Speaker Larry Cretul said Wednesday.

The Senate-led reform seeks to link pay increases to student performance, eliminate longtime job security for new teachers and divert local education dollars back to the state to fund the changes.

House majority leaders are wrangling to move identical language forward in their chamber to avoid subjecting the bill to a second vote in the Senate, which only narrowly passed the legislation after hours of heated debate last week.

“We hope that there won’t be any amendments,” Cretul said. “What the Senate sent us was a pretty good work product.”

The bill is widely bashed by educators, Democrats and a growing number of moderate Republicans, who claim the majority’s unwillingness to massage the controversial legislation is an insult to the thousands of teachers, parents and students who have bombarded lawmakers in recent days with calls, e-mails and rallies lambasting the proposed changes.

“I’ve never seen a bill crammed down the throat of legislators the way this one has been,” said Lynda Russell, a lobbyist for the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union and an important Democratic constituency group.

House Republicans should compromise and send the bill back to the Senate for a second vote, Russell said.

“If it can’t stand judgment twice, then apparently the bill has problems,” she said.

Republican leaders, however, say there is no reason to slow down the legislation and have begun preparing members to squash any proposed changes when the bill is heard Monday during a House committee meeting.

This week, they distributed message points and, in a rare outreach effort, held briefing sessions for the legislative assistants of House Republicans, who were provided a sample e-mail to send to constituents upset by the proposed changes.

“This is something that we do all time,” said House Majority Leader Adam Hasner.

The debate quickly dissolved into vocal jabs between party leaders.

House Democratic Leader Franklin Sands complained about comments from leaders that the calls and e-mails indicate the public is misinformed on the bill.

“Just because people don’t agree with them, they say the public is misinformed, the public doesn’t get it,” he said. “I think the Republican leadership does not get it.”

Hasner shot back, calling Democrats the “party of no.”

“The minority party sits on the sidelines and points fingers and places blame, and if they had some good ideas and constructive ideas on how to make education in the state of Florida better, I am sure we would listen to them,” he said.

Todd Reid, Hasner’s staff director, billed the measure as long-coming reform during the briefing, which was open to a handful of protesting teachers. Any sweeping problems eventually identified can wait for next year, he told aides.

“We can come back and pass legislation to fix it,” he said.

But educators countered future revisions won’t soften the blow of the controversial changes slated to take effect in July if the bill becomes law.

For example, new teachers would be put on annual contracts that would not be automatically renewed and school districts would have to start turning over 5 percent of their budget to the state to pay for the program.

“They are trying to ram it through as is and they will deal with whatever comes up as it comes up,” said Julie Clark, a science teacher at Dunedin High School who traveled to Tallahassee to protest the bill. “But there are so many points that would keep this bill from going through if we just stopped and thought about it.”

At a meeting of the Miami-Dade delegation, the three Republicans who showed up expressed concerns about the speed with which the House bill is moving and the apparent unwillingness of House leadership to accept changes.

“This bill is on the fast track and they don’t want any amendments. It’s a done deal,” said Rep. Julio Robaina.

He and fellow Miami Republican Rep. Marcelo Llorente offered to sponsor some amendments to the bill.

“If this bill is going to pass, we should put the rhetoric aside and look at things that will improve it,” Llorente said.