Florida’s teachers are taking to the courts over what they say is an improper payment of Best and Brightest teacher bonuses. The litigation stems from the Department of Education’s deduction of employer taxes from the bonuses teachers receive.
The Morgan & Morgan law firm is representing an Orange County elementary school teacher who seeks to recoup lost wages from the deductions over the past three years. The firm is seeking class-action status for the suit. According to Morgan & Morgan, more than 100,000 teachers are owed up to $30 million in losses over the past two years.
The Best and Brightest bonus program has been controversial since its inception in 2015. Teachers and principals rated effective or highly effective can receive up to $6,000 in annual bonuses. The rating system has been the issue, not the need to reward exceptional teachers.
The Florida Department of Education is named in the lawsuit because it contends there’s nothing in the bonus legislation that disallows deductions from the bonuses. The DOE, for its part, will not comment because of the litigation.
That bonus story is overshadowing another we think is a better one. Last week, the DOE announced a new program in which teachers who agree to work where they’re most needed will be compensated. Teachers with “proven records of success” and work at or move to D- and F-rated schools will be eligible for bonuses of up to $15,000 a year.
The teachers would need to be rated effective or highly effective based on three consecutive years of VAM scores. Highly effective teachers would receive the full $15,000 bonus — effective teachers would get $7,500. These criteria will be controversial because the methodology of the VAM — Value Added Model — is controversial.
Microsoft founder Bill Gates recently wrote: “Research shows that there is only half as much variation in student achievement between schools as there is among classrooms in the same school. If you want your child to get the best education possible, it is actually more important to get him assigned to a great teacher than to a great school.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, 18 percent of VAM-evaluated teachers in the 2017-18 school year were rated highly effective. Fifty-four percent were rated effective. Twenty-eight percent rated needs improvement or unsatisfactory.
Any attempt to put the best teachers with the kids who need them most makes sense. There will be one thing to watch for. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is behind the program, and that’s worrisome. He’s the single biggest threat to public education and a big booster for charter schools.
With pressure rising to hold private schools that receive vouchers and charter schools accountable like traditional public schools, this may be a funding scheme to pull good teachers into charter schools should accountability measure go into effect.
That would have the effect of pulling the $16 million annually in federal grant money into private and charter school operations as well. It might make school failure a bonus, if you’re the cynical type.
This editorial originally appeared in the St. Augustine Record.