The Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program advanced out of the Senate PreK-12 Committee yesterday on a split 6-5 “favorable” vote in which the bill’s Senate sponsor voted no, another Republican voted “yes” while saying she is opposed to the program, and a Democratic amendment to gut the program’s recruiting function was adopted.
The controversial Best and Brightest Program was authorized for the present school year during one of last year’s special sessions through legislative budget language. The present bill is an effort to permanently authorize the program. This year the program will pay about 5,200 Florida teachers bonuses of about $8,400 each based on the teachers’ own SAT or ACT scores and their most recent teaching evaluations. First year teachers need only have high SAT/ACT scores to qualify, so that the program functions as a signing bonus for new teachers with high test scores.
A Democratic amendment to exclude teachers with less than two years’ experience was adopted by the committee. The amendment would kill the signing bonus function of the Best and Brightest Program.
The sponsor of the Senate bill (SB 978), committee Chair John Legg, voted no on his own bill while reciting a litany of objections he has to the program. Committee Vice Chair Nancy Detert voted yes despite her own opposition to the program to continue the discussion of the program in the Senate.
The bill’s next committee stop will be with the Education Appropriations Subcommittee.
The authorizing language for Best and Brightest in the House is included in HB 7043, which is awaiting action by the chamber’s education appropriations subcommittee. That subcommittee is chaired by the originator of the Best and Brightest idea, Erik Fresen.
Earlier in the meeting, two STEM teacher bills, SB 290 and SB 432, advanced on 11-0 votes. SB 290 would provide a modest $16,000 in student loan relief to teachers in STEM subjects who teach in public schools for eight years. Its companion bill in the House, HB 15, is waiting for a hearing in the chamber’s K-12 subcommittee.
SB 432 was originally intended to authorize a pilot program in which individuals with masters’ degrees in STEM subjects would be allowed to teach without any certification. However, during yesterday’s PreK-12 Committee meeting, the bill was amended so that it would allow a STEM masters’ degree holder to earn a permanent teaching certification by demonstrating effectiveness in the classroom for five years. Such individuals would no longer have to take the coursework presently required to earn a permanent certification. The new version of SB 432 is intended to match the language in HB 189, which advanced through its House committees without any negative votes at all and is now ready for a floor vote.