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Florida senators eye ‘Best and Brightest’ repeal

Proposal sponsored by Fleming Island senator

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Legislation that would get rid of the embattled “Best and Brightest” teacher bonus program is set to have its first hearing before the Senate Education Committee next week.

The proposal, sponsored by Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, would help carry out one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ key teacher compensation proposals.

DeSantis wants to repeal the Best and Brightest program and replace it with a new $300 million plan.

DeSantis is proposing to target higher bonuses to teachers and principals who work at public schools in low-income areas.

The bonuses would be based, at least in part, on gains that schools make in the state’s school-grading calculations and would be up to $7,500 for teachers and up to $10,000 for principals.

To make room for the governor’s initiative, the Legislature would need to repeal the Best and Brightest program, which was created by lawmakers in 2015. Bradley’s bill (SB 486) is scheduled to go before the Education Committee on Dec. 9.

It needs to pass three committees before it could get a vote in the full Senate.

A House version has not been filed for the upcoming legislative session, which starts Jan. 14. Bradley has said the repeal of the Best and Brightest program is needed because “it has managed to frustrate many good teachers with seemingly random outcomes.”

He added the program has “made many good teachers feel less appreciated.”

Last month, a federal judge gave preliminary approval to a $15.5 million settlement to resolve a class-action lawsuit that alleged the Best and Brightest program discriminated against black, Hispanic and older teachers.

The lawsuit was focused on a decision by state lawmakers -- that was repealed this spring -- to partly base Best and Brightest bonuses on teachers’ scores on the SAT and ACT college-admission exams.

In addition to replacing the Best and Brightest bonus program, DeSantis also wants lawmakers to approve a $602 million plan that would set a minimum salary of $47,500 for public school teachers. Together, the governor’s teacher-compensation plans amount to nearly $1 billion.