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Florida Teachers Push Back on New Legislation

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The heavily Republican-controlled Florida Legislature has been hard at work for the last few weeks drafting draconian legislation that would strip teachers of tenure, negate their advanced degrees and length of service for salary consideration and install a merit pay system that would reward results based on test scores rather that how well they teach.

The legislation would also accept new teachers with less than a college education as long as they follow the guidelines of the Florida Dept. of Education and obtain a Bachelor's degree from an accredited university or a FDE approved non-accredited school, thereby lowering the standards for teacher certification. If this kind of thinking were to be applied to the medical profession, the kid flipping burgers today could possibly be taking out your appendix in three years without a medical degree or board certification in surgery.

At best it's a ludicrous situation. If it's not okay for other professionals, why is it okay for teachers?

In addition, under this new legislation School Boards would have to comply or risk losing five percent of their funding which would have to be augmented by a property tax assessment. Basically, SR 6 and its companion HR 7189 hold teachers hostage to teaching to the test and reduce School Boards to being merely ATMs.

Florida educators and other concerned parties are not taking this lying down. All over the state, teachers unions and independent public school teachers, as well as PTAs, politicians in opposition, civic activists and concerned citizens are speaking out and social networking their resistance. Several rallies are being held outside Republican State Representatives' offices throughout the state urging them not to pass the bill. The Senate passed HB 6 last week, and if HB 7189 passes the House it is expected that Governor Crist will sign it into law.

Activists were alerted by several Facebook opposition pages that a rally would be held Tuesday afternoon at 4:00 PM outside Rep. Dean Cannon's (R. District 35) office. Over a two hour period, over 120 people came by waving signs at traffic and talking to the local press. Among the demonstrators was Amy Mercado, Cannon's Democratic opponent in the 2010 election. Cannon is slated to be House Speaker in the next term; however, Mercado was cited by the Orlando Sentinel as Cannon's first viable opponent in years. Here's what Mercado had to say.

Chris Spiliotis from Seminole County spoke at length about the legislature's lowering of teacher standards and why the public must support public education. Steve Barnes, a House candidate (District 34) from Seminole County spoke in support of the teachers. Orange County CTA president, Mike Cahill spoke about the bill being bad legislation. Further support came from Leona Rachman, a candidate for Orange County School Board Chair. Orange County voters chose to have a county wide elected chair with tie breaking powers in the last election. Rachman is a very vocal opponent of the pending legislation. The rally ended with the crowd chanting "Nix Bill Six" for several minutes while local TV crews broadcast them live.

This was the first of many Stop SB 6 rallies throughout the state. Opposition is already mounting in every corner of the state. Today's article in the St. Petersburg Times details the groups that are involved, as well as some of the legislators who are being pressured. Republican legislators are in a hard place on this because even though they might want to vote against the legislation they need campaign money that is supplied by Senator John Thrasher, who is also head of the Republican Party in Florida. Thrasher is the sponsor of SB 6 and he also controls the purse strings.

Things could be possibly modified by the US Dept of Education. Florida will not receive any "Race to the Top" funding this round. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has so far been silent on Florida's situation, however, it is thought in some circles that the denial of funding in this round was the Federal Government's way of saying "we're very displeased with you" which is sending them a message to change the legislation although no one has provided any evidence that this was the case. The next Orlando rally, "Seeing Red" will be on Thursday, April 1 at 4:00 PM. The location is the intersection of Mills and Colonial, one of the busiest in Orange County. Attendees are asked to wear red.

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