Florida Teachers Union Sues Over State Evaluation LawChristine Jordan Sexton
Florida’s largest teachers union and its national affiliate sued the state seeking to overturn a law that ties teacher salaries to job performance, measured in part by standardized test scores.
The union, the Florida Education Association, and seven Florida teachers alleged the 2011 law violates their due process and equal protection rights under the U.S. Constitution because their grades are based on the test results of students they didn’t teach, according to a complaint filed today in Gainesville federal court. The law also creates separate classes of public school teachers by eliminating tenure for newly hired teachers while maintaining tenure for older teachers, according to the plaintiffs.
The law was supported by Florida Governor Rick Scott, a Republican who at the time said it would give “Florida the best educated workforces to compete in the 21st century economy.”
John Tupps, a spokesman for Scott, also declined to immediately comment on the complaint. Named as defendants in the case are the Florida Board of Education and Florida Commissioner of Education Tony Bennett. Cheryl Etters, a spokeswoman for the board, also declined to immediately comment.
This is the second lawsuit the union has filed challenging the law. In the first case, filed in state court in Tallahassee, the union alleged the law violates teachers’ collective bargaining rights and is unconstitutional. That case is pending.
The law requires all school personnel to be evaluated annually using a scale of highly effective, effective, needs improvement or unsatisfactory. For classroom teachers, half of the evaluation must be based on student learning gains. For administrators, 40 percent of the evaluation must be based on learning gains and for non-classroom personnel, 30 percent of the evaluation is based on classroom gains.
The law is phased in over a three year-period and changes to salaries based on the new performance guidelines become effective July 1, 2014.
Some of the named plaintiffs in the suit teach orchestra, art and health sciences, which aren’t included in the standardized tests, called the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test or the FCAT. Other plaintiffs teach core subject areas, such as math, but either don’t teach the concepts that are included in the FCAT because the math is advanced or don’t teach the grades where math skills are tested.
A similar bill passed the state legislature in 2010 but it was vetoed by then-Governor Charlie Crist, a Republican at the time.
Tallahassee attorney Ron Meyer, an attorney for the union, said the law is harming “solid professionals.”
The legislature is meeting in its annual 60 day session and there have been bills filed to address some of the unions’ issues, Meyer said, adding that they aren’t gaining “any momentum.”
“I hope this lawsuit will be a catalyst to some legislative change,” he said.
The case is Kim Cook et al v. Tony Bennett, Florida Commissioner of Education, 13-cv-00072, U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida (Gainesville).