MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel. The Florida legislature has just passed some of the nation's most sweeping reforms to teacher tenure and pay. The bill phases out tenure and pay based on experience, and in its place, salary and certification would depend in part on whether students make progress on standardized tests. Already, teachers are pressuring Republican Governor Charlie Crist to veto the bill. Scott Finn of member station WUSF reports.
SCOTT FINN: Schools just let out at suburban Sand Pine Elementary, and 30 teachers stand out front, holding protest signs and wearing read.
(Soundbite of protesters)
FINN: Judi Mulligan teaches fourth grade here, and she says the color signifies both the teacher's apple and their anger at the bill.
Ms. JUDI MULLIGAN (Teacher, Sand Pine Elementary): To look at what legislators are saying, it's kind of like a kick in the stomach for everybody. It makes us sort of feel like we're really not worth, you know, worthwhile or important.
State Senator JOHN THRASHER (Republican, Florida): But I do respect teachers. I respect them every day.
FINN: That's Florida Senator John Thrasher, the bill's sponsor and state GOP chairman. On the Senate floor, he pointed out his daughter, a former teacher, in the gallery.
State Sen. THRASHER: She's told me she's not fearful of this bill because she thinks that when this bill passes, it's going to inspire teachers to get into the classroom and do a better job than they've been doing, even now.
FINN: If the bill is signed into law, there'd be no more tenure for new teachers. Instead, they'd be hired on one-year contracts. There would also be a lot more testing of students. Teacher raises would depend on how much progress students make on standardized tests. And if students don't show learning gains for four of five years, a teacher could lose certification.
Florida's long been at the forefront of education changes, but this bill surprises Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality.
Ms. SANDI JACOBS (National Council on Teacher Quality): What Florida is considering is really very big and very bold. And while other states have passed related pieces, what Florida is proposing would really be very unprecedented on such a big scale.
FINN: Jacobs' group supports the Florida proposal. Studies show students excel when they have high-quality teachers, although other experts debate whether merit pay helps.
Florida's bill mirrors President Obama's Race to the Top program. Florida was heavily favored to win a federal grant, but it lost out to Tennessee and Delaware. Those states had the support of teacher unions, while Florida mostly did not.
Now, teachers are flooding Republican Governor Charlie Crist with emails and phone calls. Crist once said he supported the bill, but now:
Governor CHARLIE CRIST (Republican, Florida): I don't know. I honestly don't know yet. One of the most important things a public servant can do is listen. I mean, God gave me two ears and one mouth. I'm going to listen this week.
FINN: Crist says he's concerned about how special-needs students would be measured, how to test progress in courses like band and what to do about chronically absentee students. These details would be hashed out later. It's that uncertainty educator Judi Mulligan fears. But she says teachers will adjust.
Ms. MULLIGAN: Actually, the people that are here, we will end up, of course, as teachers, doing what we're told to do. So we'll make it work. But it would be nice to make it work in a positive atmosphere where you felt needed and, you know, loved, even.
FINN: Crist says he'll make his decision this week. If he vetoes the bill, he'll become a folk hero to many teachers, who have promised to support him in his tough primary race for the U.S. Senate.
For NPR News, I'm Scott Finn in Tampa.
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