Crist vetoes Florida teacher pay-tenure bill

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed a bill Thursday that would have made it easier to fire Florida teachers and link their pay to student test scores, a move that will anger Republican legislative leaders and former Gov. Jeb Bush.

Some say Crist’s rejection of the measure (SB 6) signals that he is about to drop out of the Republican primary for the U.S. Senate, where he badly trails in the polls, and run as an independent.

The bill, the most far-reaching legislation of its kind in the nation, had strong backing from Republican conservatives, including Bush, who had worked for its passage.

It generated protests by teachers and parents across the state and had scant public support.

The bill, which conservative academics and politicians called transformative, would have eliminated tenure for newly hired teachers and required school districts to establish merit pay plans for teachers and administrators.

Performance evaluations, based on how much improvement their students showed on standardized tests, would have been used to determine who got merit raises. Poor evaluations could have cost teachers their jobs through denial of recertification.

Crist specifically questioned how the progress of special needs children could be assessed.

School districts also would have been prohibited from using experience and advanced degrees as factors in setting pay scales, now a common practice, although degrees could have been considered in the evaluations.

The bill annually would have set aside 5 percent of each district’s classroom spending – about $900 million statewide – to cover merit pay, test development and other related expenses. Districts that failed to comply with the bill would have lost that money.

Advocates said the legislation would help attract and retain better teachers with pay raises while weeding out the bad ones. Merit pay is something that’s been tried before in Florida and other states.

Opponents said the tenure and recertification provisions were unprecedented anywhere in the nation. They argued the lack of job security and testing that can be skewed by outside factors such as students’ home lives would have discouraged good teachers from working in Florida.

The bill had passed the Republican-controlled House and Senate on almost party-line votes. No Democrats supported the bill, although some Republicans in each chamber voted against it. An override would require a two-thirds majority in both houses, which is highly unlikely.

Crist trailed his GOP primary opponent Marco Rubio by a 56 percent to 33 percent margin in a Quinnipiac University poll released earlier Thursday, but it showed him leading a three-way race in the general election. The poll has Crist favored by 32 percent of the respondents to 30 percent for Rubio, a former state House speaker, and 24 percent for the Democratic hopeful, U.S. Rep. Kendrick Meek.