Florida Teachers Union Files Complaint Over Bonus Pay Fairness

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The Florida Education Association (FEA), the state’s largest teachers union, has filed charges against the Department of Education and every school district in the state over what it claims is discrimination in a teacher bonus program.

Pamela Stalk of USA Today writes that the complaint was made because the “Best and Brightest” scholarship program contains elements of racial and age discrimination. Florida lawmakers gave more than $44 million for these bonuses, which, by the end of the year, could net a teacher $10,000.

“Too many high-quality teachers in Florida were denied access to this bonus program because of the unfair and discriminatory rules and short timeline set up by lawmakers,” offered FEA President Joanne McCall in a news statement. “This bonus plan wasn’t thought out very well and wasn’t properly vetted in the Legislature, and that has resulted in many good teachers unfairly denied access to this bonus.”

Teachers must submit proof they were rated as “highly effective” and send their ACT or SAT scores to their district offices to qualify. ACT or SAT scores are required to be in the 80th percentile or higher. First-year teachers have not been evaluated, so they can only submit their test scores.

The FEA has accused the program of making older teachers miss the submission deadline for the program because their scores take longer to be sent. And because percentile data was not a part of the score calculation before 1972, teachers who took the college admission tests before that year were disqualified.

The union also stated that the program is discriminatory against minorities.

“It has been well-established in the courts and peer-reviewed scholarship that the SAT and ACT are a racially and culturally biased tests that disparately impact test-takers on the basis of African-American and Hispanic race.”

Other criticisms of the “Brightest and Best” scholarship program were that some teachers did not take a college admission test before they entered school. Some questioned the fairness of basing a teacher bonus on a test taken as a high school student. A number of naysayers believe the rating system itself was inferior, reports Colleen Wright for The Tampa Bay Times.

Joining the FEA in the complaint were the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and the Florida Commission on Human Relations.

The money will be given for the first time in the spring. Approximately 5,200 teachers are eligible for about $8,500 each. Joanne McCall, president of the FEA, believes a better solution would be to put the funds in the state’s budget formula.

Andrew Marra and Mike Stucka report for The Palm Beach Post that most of the teachers who qualified across the state were under 40. But most teachers in the US and Florida tend to be over 40. A federal survey performed in 2012 found the median age of teachers nationwide to be 41.

This program was “slipped into the state budget’ in the spring since it failed to pass as a bill. Rep. Erik Fresen (R-Miami), the chairperson of the House’s education budget committee, is the author of the program. Fresen read Amanda Ripley’s book “The Smartest Kids in the World” on a plane and learned that the nations with the highest academic performance also had well-paid teachers with high aptitudes.

The legislator agreed that the program had some shortcomings, but he hopes lawmakers will adopt a bill to continue and improve the concept, writes Jeffrey S. Solochek of The Tampa Bay Times.