Appeals Court Upholds Performance Pay Law
By Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida // January 25, 2015
ratings decide whether pay increases
TALLAHASSEE, FLORIDA – An appeals court Friday upheld a controversial law more closely tying teachers’ pay to how well students do on tests, ruling that the Legislature didn’t give too much leeway to the Florida Department of Education to decide how to implement the measure.
In a 10-3 vote with two judges recusing themselves, the 1st District Court of Appeal rejected a challenge, backed by the state’s largest teachers union, to the “Student Success Act.”
The court’s decision focused on whether part of the law was specific enough on how to set up the standards deciding which teachers received each of the law’s four ratings.
Teachers’ ratings can decide whether they get pay increases or, in some cases, keep their jobs.
“When creating the student learning growth criterion, the Board of Education is not free to invent factors out of whole cloth; instead, it must utilize the described components,” Judge Brad Thomas wrote for the majority.
“The statute provides that this criterion will be based on standardized test scores, where possible, and other factors, such as a student’s past performance and related measures for areas not subject to standardized test scores.”
The ruling upheld a 2013 decision by Leon Circuit Judge John Cooper, who also brushed aside arguments that the law trampled on the collective bargaining rights of teachers.
That portion of Cooper’s ruling was not part of the appeal that the judges decided Friday.
In a dissent, appeals-court Judge Robert Benton wrote that the group of teachers who filed the lawsuit didn’t argue about the merits of judging teachers based on student performance.
“Their challenge is based instead on the Legislature’s handing off to the state educational bureaucracy power to adopt rules, wholly as it sees fit, that might lead to 90 percent of Florida’s public school teachers losing their jobs,” Benton wrote.
“Of course, it might be only 10 percent. But the gist of the challenge is that nothing in the law determines whether it will be 90 percent or 10 percent, or how the bureaucracy should settle that question.”
The performance-pay law was the subject of a fierce, two-year legislative battle in 2010 and 2011 before being signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott.
In a statement, the Florida Education Association said it was “disappointed” with the ruling. The union pointedly noted that while three judges heard the appeal last year, the entire court ruled in the case.
“We still believe that many provisions of SB 736 (the law) are destructive to students, teachers and public schools and that the legislation is having a detrimental effect on our students,” FEA President Andy Ford said.
Ford said the union hasn’t decided whether to appeal the decision to the Florida Supreme Court. Ford’s organization has also challenged the law in federal court on different grounds. That case is on appeal after a federal district judge ruled against the union.