Lawmakers continue controversial teacher bonus program

Best and Brightest program being continued next year with even more money

(iStock / Liliboas)

TALLAHASSSEE, Fla. – A teacher bonus program known as Best and Brightest and almost universally condemned by Florida's education establishment is being continued next year with even more money.

Teachers say the plan discriminates against foreign-born educators or those who attended a historically black college that didn’t require SAT or ACT tests for admission.

Thousands of graduating high school students will have taken the ACT or the SAT to demonstrate their readiness for college. But both tests can now earn classroom teachers a bonus of up to $10,000, even though they may have taken the tests 10 or 20 years ago.

Florida’s school superintendents said they endorse accountability, but not bonuses based on one of the two tests back in high school.

"Is there a significant correlation between one’s score on the ACT or the SAT and the performance in the classroom?" asked Sen. Bill Montford. "And that’s questionable."

But the general dislike of the plan didn’t stop lawmakers from renewing it for at least one more year. They are also giving it a $5 million increase, from $44 million to $49 million.

"About a third of the award funds from this past year went to attract new teachers," said Sen. Don Gaetz. "Teachers who had not been in the teaching profession before."

More than 5,200 teachers qualified for the bonus this year. So instead of getting $10,000, they’ll have to share about $8,200 apiece.

April 1 is the deadline for all districts to cut checks.

"We have a lot of veteran teachers who can’t retrieve their ACT or SAT scores because they were taken so long ago," said FEA President JoAnne McCall.

While educators don’t like the plan, top lawmakers do. Those lawmakers are already discussing an increase in the money next year.