Putting Education Reform To The Test

Florida Senate President Says Teachers Shouldn’t Expect An Even Playing Field

Jordan Michael/StateImpact Florida

Senate President Don Gaetz says students and teachers should have school choice options.

Supporters say the charter school bill that has a good chance of passing Florida’s Republican controlled Legislature this year will better regulate charters and expand choices for parents.

One thing the bill won’t do is require the same evaluations for charter school teachers as traditional public school teachers.

Charter schools which do not participate in the federal Race to the Top program do not have to evaluate teachers. However, many charter schools are evaluating teachers (search “charter” in our database to find a few).

Senate President Don Gaetz says that’s okay.

“I’ve been in business for thirty years. I’ve never asked for an even playing field,” Gaetz said. “You can’t make everything equal.”

Gaetz is a former public school superintendent and school board chairman in Okaloosa County in the Panhandle.

Just as parents have a choice about where to send their kids to school, he said teachers should also have a choice about where to work.

“If you think you’d rather work in a charter school so that you’re not necessarily under the thumb of the district or of a union, I think you ought to have a chance to apply to a charter school and get selected,” Gaetz said.

He says teachers who feel more comfortable in a traditional school environment should be able to work there, too.

“But you’re not going to get paid the same, you’re not going to get treated the same, you’re not going to get evaluated the same,” Gaetz said.

That’s not okay for Jorge Lugo, a Vero Beach high school teacher and athletics coach who “hates to lose.”

Lugo told a House committee last week that he is all for competition between teachers because it creates a better classroom.

“However, when I’m compared side by side as a public school teacher next to a charter school teacher, and they look at my score versus their score, they’re not the same thing,” Lugo said. “If they’re not held to the same accountability levels as I am, line for line, then it’s not the same score.

“Charter school teachers won’t be held to the same standards or evaluated the same way as the teachers in the public schools,” Lugo said. “Certainly there’s competition, but it’s not fair competition.”

Charter schools are publicly funded, but privately run schools.

Charter schools must hire certified teachers and students must take the same tests required of district school students. But charter schools are exempt from some regulations in order to allow them more flexibility.

For instance, charter school teachers are not unionized. Charter schools can extend school hours or the calendar. And charter school buildings don’t have to abide by the same building codes as district school buildings.

Charter schools are also accused of skimming the best and brightest students. (Others argue the best and brightest students are more likely to seek out a charter school.) Charter schools must use a lottery to determine which students win a spot in the school.

Gaetz says being afraid of school choice is “1950’s thinking.”

“We need to give parents more choices; we need to give students more options,” Gaetz said, “but we need to hold the operators of (all) schools…to the same high standards academically and financially.”


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