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As the debate over proposed education reforms continues to ratchet up in Tallahassee, groups on both sides are taking to the airwaves.
Groups supporting and opposing SB 6 and HB 7189, the Senate and House education bills, recently launched television spots to bolster their arguments. The Florida Chamber of Commerce, a main proponent of Republican-led legislation, is running 30-second advertisement that blames "Tallahassee union lobbyists" for misleading citizens about the education proposals.
"Tallahassee union lobbyists have been paid a fortune to bash anyone in their way, now backing a shadow group against rewarding our best teachers," the ad begins, with images of men in dark suits and sunglasses talking in the background. "Fact is these reforms will not cut one teacher's pay or cut one retirement benefit."
In this item, we're going to put the claim about teacher pay to the Truth-O-Meter.
SB 6 and HB 7189 are identical education proposals being considered in the Legislature that would radically alter how teachers are evaluated and compensated. Under the plan -- which was first pushed by Senate Republicans -- teacher pay increases would be tied to student performance on end-of-course exams. Gone would be the standard calculations for years of service.
Teachers are dug in against the proposal, saying that the changes would punish good teachers, take decisions out of the hands of school districts and require local schools to either further cut budgets or raise taxes.
There has been much disagreement about what the education reforms would do to teachers and classrooms, and both sides are now touting myth vs. fact bulletins to help get out their message.
Here's the myth vs. fact statements from the chamber.
Here's an eerily similar myth vs. fact sheet from House Republicans (and by eerily similar, we mean pretty much identical).
And here's the other side from the Florida Education Association.
We've seen claims on the Internet and heard about talk among teachers that SB 6 and HB 7189 could mean a pay cut for educators. To examine that claim, let's compare the current system to the one legislators are considering.
The current pay system
Florida's 67 school districts set their own teacher pay scales. In most every case, they are based on two factors --- level of degree and years of experience.
In Orange County, for example, a teacher with 10 years experience and a bacherlor's degree earns $41,720. In Pinellas, that same teacher earns $40,083. If the same teacher has a Master's degree, they earn $44,325 in Orange and $43,010 in Pinellas. Teachers can get paid extra for coaching sports or advising a club. The state also has bonuses available to high performing teachers.
As a teacher gains experience or gets an advanced degree, their salary goes up.
The proposed pay system
Under the new system, teachers would no longer be slotted into a pay scale based on experience or degree. So those salary scales in Orange and Pinellas would disappear.
For existing teachers, salaries would be frozen where they are.
New teachers would start at one salary (regardless of education), and teachers transferring from another state would start at another salary (regardless of years of service). The exact salaries would be set by individual school districts.
Starting in 2015, teacher raises would depend on their annual evaluations, and half of those evaluations would be calculated using student performance statistics.
Are there pay cuts in the bill?
We examined the bill and analyses of it prepared for state legislators to see if there is any pay cut. We found there were no such cuts mandated or suggested in the bill.
The only thing that came close was how the bill would affect a teacher's potential earnings. Their ultimate salary in the future could vary depending on how they rank in the proposed new system.
For example, while a teacher would expect to see small salary increases based on years of service under the current system, their salary could remain the same for several years under the reform plan. But it could also mean they would receive bigger raises faster.
The performance pay raises are just that -- raises -- not bonuses, and stay a part of the a teacher's base compensation.
It's also worth noting that starting salaries for new teachers could be cut, since that's a detail to be worked out by local school districts. But that wouldn't affect educators currently teaching in Florida's schools.
None of this means, however, that pay cuts aren't possible. It just says that they aren't directly spelled out in the bills.
School district administrators fear that the cost of implementing the reforms -- no one knows the final price tag -- will force districts to either raise taxes or slash budgets (we previously ruled that the bill represents an unfunded mandate for school districts). And if budgets have to be cut, salaries and benefits are an obvious target --- they make up 80 to 85 percent of a district's budget.
Pinellas School board member Carol Cook said that the financial mandate imposed by SB 6/HB 7189 on top of other budget pressures could force Pinellas to reconsider small raisies it agreed to give teachers in 2010-11.
"I’d like to turn over every stone before we do that. But there aren’t many stones left to turn over,” Cook told the St. Petersburg Times.
Duval County superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals told PolitiFact Florida that his district could face at least $42 million in unfunded mandates if the education reforms pass. He also notes that Duval County -- and all districts across Florida -- will lose millions of dollars in federal stimulus funding "with no legislative plan for replacement."
While it's impossible to predict the future, we have to at least consider those claims in analyzing the Florida Chamber of Commerce ad.
To recap: In its attempt to promote SB 6 and HB 7189, the Florida Chamber of Commerce notes that the education reforms tying teacher pay increases to student performance will not "cut one teacher's pay." The chamber is right that there's nothing in the education bills that cuts teachers' pay. But teacher salaries could fluctuate in the new performance pay system when compared with the system currently in place. And there is a fear among school district administrators that the cost to implement the SB 6/HB 7189 changes might result in less money to be directed to teacher salaries. As such, we rate the Florida Chamber of Commerce statement Mostly True.
Florida Chamber of Commerce, TV ad, April 2, 2010
Florida Chamber of Commerce, Myth Vs. Fact SB 6
Florida House of Representatives, Myth Vs. Fact HB 7189
Florida Education Association, Myth Vs. Fact
Florida Chamber of Commerce, Interview with Judi Spann, April 6, 2010
Vote No on SB 6, online petition
Orange County School District, teacher pay scale
Pinellas County School District, teacher pay scale
Florida Department of Education, performance pay program
St. Petersburg Times, "Will SB 6 lead to teacher pay cuts in Pinellas," April 6, 2010
St. Petersburg Times, "Senate passes series of significant education changes," March 25, 2010
St. Petersburg Times, "House Republicans push through anti-tenure bill," April 1, 2010
Duval County Schools, letter to editor from superintendent Ed Pratt-Dannals," March 31, 2010
Duval County Schools, interview with Ed Pratt-Dannals, April 1, 2010
Florida Education Association, interview with Mark Pudlow, April 1, 2010
State. Rep. Julio Robaina, press release, April 1, 2010
Florida Senate, Senate Bill 6 legislative analysis
Florida Department of Education, Funding for Florida School District 2009-2010, accessed April 1, 2010
State Sen. John Thrasher, guest editorial, April 1, 2010
Florida Department of Education, Interview with Tom Butler, April 2, 2010
Florida Senate, SB 6
Florida House, HB 7189
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