While teachers and other activists protested Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker's actions vigorously and loudly in Madison in recent weeks, Florida's newly elected governor, Republican Rick Scott, and the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature quietly ushered through precedent-shattering and radical new legislation which will dramatically change the rules under which that state's teachers will work.
Florida Senate Bill 736 was signed into law by Governor Scott yesterday. It became the first new law Scott has enacted in his governorship, and it is already drawing the ire of teacher union officials, both within Florida and at the national level.
Predictably, the bill, which eliminates tenure for new hires, establishes merit pay and mandates teacher effectiveness evaluations based on student test scores, is being roundly criticized by union stalwarts such as American Federation of Teachers (AFT) president Randi Weingarten, who said in a statement, "Scott and his allies have rammed through legislation that will undermine Florida's students and their public schools.It silences teachers, who are closest to our kids in the classroom; imposes compensation and evaluation systems that have failed to advance learning when tried elsewhere."
Mark Pudlow, spokesman for the Florida Education Association (FEA) added, "There's just so many problems with it. It's a terribly unfunded mandate." Pudlow added that the FEA has not yet decided whether it will challenge the new bill in court, "We're looking at all the options right now," he said.
Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the Washington, D.C. school district, where she became the focal point of a storm of controversy generated by her firing of 241 under-performing teachers and placing 737 more on probation for a year, said of the new Florida law, "This landmark bill recognizes that teachers are the most important factor in schools when determining a child's success," Rhee founded and now runs a national child educational advocacy group called StudentsFirst. Rhee was featured prominently in the hard-hitting documentary, Waiting for "Superman" last year, and was among Governor Scott's first hires (as a consultant on education) upon taking office.