Putting Education Reform To The Test

Challenge To Teacher Merit Pay Rule Underway In Tallahassee

Attorneys listen to the judge at the merit pay hearing.

A judge in Tallahassee is hearing a legal challenge to a state rule regarding teacher evaluations and merit pay.

The Florida Legislature passed Senate Bill 736 last year, known as the “Student Success Act.” It sets standards for teacher evaluations and pay based on performance. Once the law went into effect last summer, state education leaders started crafting rules to carry out the law.

The teachers union is challenging one of those rules on a technicality. The Florida Education Association says education leaders have exceeded their rule making authority by turning a simple procedure for evaluating teachers into an elaborate, 13 page checklist that fails to establish adequate standards.

Attorney Anthony Demma argued on behalf of the teachers union that the Florida Department of Education (DOE) failed to follow the requirement that a rule be drafted in readable language.

“The rule, particularly the checklist, includes vague and arcane phrases and clauses that must be met by districts,” said Demma.

The state contends that DOE is well within its rulemaking authority. Attorney Jonathan Glogau countered that the statute requires DOE to review, approve and monitor teacher evaluation systems.

“That language necessarily requires the setting of standards,” said Glogau. “How do you approve something if you don’t tell the districts what the standards are that they have to meet?”

Demma said DOE also “lopped” the evaluation checklist in with the federal Race to the Top grant, which is used to help states assess student achievement. Tying the state checklist to the federal funding will potentially cost school districts millions of dollars, according to Demma.

Judge John Van Laningham set aside two days for arguments, but with just two witnesses, the hearing is expected to finish today.


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