Why would the Florida legislature appropriate over $44 million to give $10,000 bonuses to teachers who had high ACT/SAT test scores when they were in high school? Some teachers took the tests years ago, and verifying their scores is next to impossible.
Encouraging young, bright people to seek careers in education is a good thing. Awarding a bonus might tempt some to teach for a year or two, but teacher turnover is high. A one time bonus would not help much. There may be another reason.
There is a new young face on the Florida State Board of Education. Rebecca Fishman Lipsey graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and earned her Master’s from the Bank Street College of Education. She taught fourth and fifth grade in New York City from 2004-2006. Then, she joined the staff of Teach for America and served as Executive Director of TFA in Miami from 2008-2012. She formed her own company and was subsequently appointed by Governor Scott to the Florida State Board of Education. She once might have qualified for a Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus.
The bonus program was extracted from a bill that died in the 2015 regular session. Erik Fresen, Chair of the Florida House Education Appropriations Subcommittee, resubmitted the provision during the June special legislative session. Fresen is a representative from Miami and brother-in-law of the head of Academica, the state’s largest for-profit charter management firm.
Of all the education bills that were left hanging at the end of the session, why was this particular program important to Erik Fresen? TFA reports they have 300 corps teachers in Miami. The other Florida TFA program is in Duval County. Gary Chartrand, the former SBE chair, supports charter schools there. Duval County received a Florida DOE grant to expand its TFA program. TFA charges districts finder fees from $2-5,000 per teacher. Perhaps that was the reason for the DOE grant. Maybe this is all in the realm of political horse trading.
On the other hand, there are those who believe it may be more akin to feathering ones nest. If so, it is mostly speculation. What is to be gained? Once again, we can consider the financial incentives. TFA teachers have the same salary and benefit packages as other teachers in the schools to which they are assigned. They receive some money for relocation and over $5,000 per year for two years to reduce their student debt. In 2013, TFA Miami-Dade reported that a little over 80% of the TFA corps completed the full two years.
TFA has been losing teachers. They are assigned to schools in low income areas, and other teachers also leave more frequently than those in more affluent areas. Some of these schools are rough on young, inexperienced teachers. Recruiting teachers can be expensive for districts and charters. It is possible that the approximately $5000 finders fee that TFA charges is less expensive than other approaches, especially for struggling schools with high turnover, but only if there are teacher shortages.
Until budget cuts became severe, many districts were willing to pay TFA fees. Miami-Dade, however, is hiring relatively few new teachers due to enrollment declines. Charter enrollments there are growing. TFA wants to grow. The Hechinger Report states that their growth strategy violates their mission to help disadvantaged children. TFA is now moving into charters in more affluent areas. Some charters also have recognized that more experienced teachers often get better results than novices. Teacher retention is becoming a higher priority according to the Columbia School Journalism Project.
Nationally, 42 percent of TFA alums worked in charters, but they were alluded to as ‘churn and burn’ jobs. Perhaps charters in Miami and Jacksonville see an opportunity to close the salary gap with public schools and improve teacher recruitment and retention. As long as there is a level playing field between charters and traditional public schools, bonuses might help both sectors. If charters continue to screen applicants and return difficult students to the traditional public schools, the field may be slanted. If TFA teachers take positions in charters serving affluent families (as reported in Seattle), and receive bonuses for doing so, there may be lawsuits.