Who are Florida Teacher Bonuses Really For?

money packs-163497_1280Why 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.

Posted in Charter Schools, Florida, Florida House, Funding, Public Education, Teachers.

2 Comments

  1. The State of Florida is obsessed with testing. They are testing our children to oblivion and want so desperately to make standardized test be of value that they would give away 44 million dollars worth of taxpayer money to fund a teacher bonus program cleverly entitled Best & Brightest Scholarship. This bill is rigged to be easy to get for first year teachers and next to impossible to get if you’re an experienced teacher. The bill should be titled, ‘If Your a Career Teacher, Get The Hell Out, We Hate You’.

    Under this bonus program most career teachers will not qualify. Most likely to qualify is a person who just graduated college who shows up at school with no teaching experience, no coursework in education, no internship, having already pledged to leave the profession after two years. This is a total slap in the face to anybody who has studied education in college, performed a successful internship, and has gone through the process to earn a valid Florida Teaching Certificate.

    So how does an experienced career educator qualify? Can they qualify with National Board Teacher Certification? Nope. How about a Master’s degree in the subject they teach? Nope. What if their students score like little geniuses on their standardized test? Still not going to do it. What if a teacher can demonstrate all of the above plus their principal considers them highly effective? Still not good enough for this group of teacher hating legislators. You have to be rated highly effective by your principal and you have to score in the 20th percentile on the SAT or ACT, a test taken as a child to get into college. This at a time when many colleges are dropping the SAT or ACT application requirements because it is more closely correlated with family income than a predictor of success in college and career.

    This is really just a 44 million dollar giveaway to an organization called Teach for America, a corporation with a half billion dollars in assets that bills districts up to $9000 in administration fees for each recruit to put recent college grads with stellar test scores but no coursework in education into inner-city public and charter schools to teach our neediest children. 90% of TFA recruits do not teach past two years. Sorry, education should not be temporary charity work and our neediest children deserve our best most dedicated teachers, not temps.

    The problem is retention. Our true ‘Best & Brightest’, those properly credentialed teachers with advanced degrees, certification, with years of experience, who may or may not have a high SAT or ACT score, are leaving the profession in droves creating an unprecedented teacher shortage. If the problem is retention, why is the state rewarding those with a $10,000 bonus who will leave after two years? If the State of Florida truly cared about education, it would be rewarding all effective teachers for remaining in the profession, improving working conditions, and offering incentives to those entering the profession with the proper education and credentials.

  2. My daughter who achieved the highest score as a teacher in Florida just became a principal. In her field which is Language Arts she achieved a 98% on the GRE’s yet she will not receive the 10,000 dollars because it is based on very old SAT’s which I have no idea where they are nor do I care.
    Dr. Maloni

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