TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Florida lawmakers gave final legislative approval Wednesday to a bill aimed at replacing teacher tenure with a merit-based system, in the latest clash between a U.S. state government and public employee unions.
By an 80-39 vote, the Florida House approved largely along party lines a Republican-backed measure that would decide teacher pay according to a yet-to-be determined measure of student performance on standardized tests along with other criteria determined by local school boards.
While allowing current teachers to remain in the tenure system that bases pay predominantly on seniority, new teachers would have less job security because they would have to be rehired each year.
The measure, which passed the state Senate earlier this week, has pitted the new Republican governor, Rick Scott, and the Republican-led Legislature against the state's largest teachers' union. Last year, Scott's Republican predecessor, Charlie Crist, then an independent candidate for the U.S. Senate, vetoed a similar bill.
Efforts by various budget-strapped states to rein in the power of public sector unions have ignited a national struggle.
Supporters of the Florida measure say it replaces an antiquated system that values seniority over competency and provides little incentive for young, energetic teachers to remain in the field.
"This bill is going to improve our system to the benefit of our students," Scott told reporters. "We will make sure the best teachers stick around, that we retain them, we train them and we'll find the money to make sure they are paid fairly."
Critics argue the move is another attempt to break the union under the guise of education reform.
Democratic state Representative Elaine Schwartz said, "So-called 'merit pay' is just a euphemism for the nationwide attempt to kill unions, taking away the core job security and benefits that can be negotiated for members."
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