TALLAHASSEE -- MiamiHerald.typepad.com/nakedpolitics
Gov. Rick Scott is in a tight spot with teachers.
To score points with rank-and-file educators, Scott has made $2,500 pay raises for classroom teachers a top budget priority.
But to stay in their good graces — and possibly win their votes in 2014 — Scott will need to bat down a number of education proposals moving through the Florida Legislature, including the hot-button “parent trigger” bill and a pitch to increase facilities funding for charter schools.
There’s just one problem. Opposing those bills will land Scott in the doghouse with Republicans and put him at odds with former Gov. Jeb Bush, whose nonprofit foundation has driven Florida’s education agenda for more than a decade.
What’s a governor with sagging poll numbers to do?
“He can’t do everything the teachers’ union wants or he would lose support among Republicans,” said Brian Peterson, a Florida International University professor and editor of The Miami Education Review, an online newsletter. “But he is going to have to take a more moderate stance on education issues.”
In recent weeks, Scott has initiated a dialogue with the statewide teachers’ union, the Florida Education Association. Insiders say members of the governor’s staff attend regular meetings at union’s Tallahassee headquarters — a noteworthy fact, considering the lack of a relationship until this point.
The raises are also significant, not only because of the $480 million price tag, but because Scott has proposed distributing an equal amount to each classroom teacher in Florida. Republican lawmakers have said they would rather see the raises distributed based on merit, but teachers are fiercely opposed to the idea.
Some observers see Scott’s proposal to award across-the-board raises as a blatant overture to the teachers’ union. The governor has historically been a strong advocate of performance pay. In fact, the first bill he signed into law laid the groundwork for the expansive merit-pay system for teachers set to kick in next year.
Scott faces an uphill battle in getting the Legislature to approve the across-the-board increase.
Last week, Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Destin, told reporters his “preference would be that there’d be some recognition and reward for teachers who stay late on tough challenges and get learning gains, as opposed to treating the best teacher in Florida the same as you would treat the worst teacher in Florida.”
Still, teachers such as Jodie Martin say they appreciate the sentiment, especially when coupled with Scott’s promise to increase spending on classroom supplies and professional development.
“I’ve been a teacher for nine years and I’ve never really had a raise,” said Martin, a fifth-grade teacher at Medart Elementary School in Wakulla County. “Any increase would help.”
Will more money be enough to win over Florida’s 170,000 schoolteachers?
Jeff Wright, the Florida Education Association’s director of public policy advocacy, says no — especially during a legislative session that could see the expansion of charter and virtual schools.
One proposal is the so-called parent trigger. It is especially loathed by the union because it would enable charter-school companies to take over failing public schools.