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Florida's longest war - merit pay for teachers

LeRoy Collins 
The late LeRoy Collins (pictured above) is considered by many to be one of Florida's finest governors. He became governor in Jan. 1955 and left office in Jan. 1961.

One of his ideas while governor was to push for a merit pay plan for teachers complete with methods to determine the quality of teachers.

The issue of merit pay, teacher testing, teacher evaluations and all the other stuff that the folks in Tallahassee today think they just discovered is very old news.

In fact, after doing a little research Crowley Political Report, found that merit pay issues have been pushed by one governor or another since at least 1957.

Few governors were as successful as Democratic Gov. Bob Graham who got a merit pay plan passed in 1983 only to see it largely unravel a few years later.

We're not forgeting Republican Gov. Jeb Bush who made wholesale education reform a cornerstone of his administration from 1999 to 2007.  He had considerable success but not with merit pay.

So we take a look back and find amazing similarities leaving the question - can Gov. Rick Scott overcome gubernatorial history?

April 6, 1957, AP - TALLAHASSEE - Gov. LeRoy Collins said today that the Florida school teacher will be a lot better off in the long run under his projected merit pay plan than by getting a pay raise now of $1,100.

He explained that if the basic starting salary of teachers with bachelors degees is set at $4,200 - to which the $1,100 raise would bring it - the better teachers would be hurt.

The Florida Education Association is waging a strong fight for the $1,100 raise. Gov. Collins has countered with a program to grant a $300 across the board raise for teachers plus a merit system...Under the merit raises the state and counties each would chip in on a 50-50 basis $200 -- for a county pool rewarding more efficient teachers.

...The governor said he wanted to say to teachers currently instructing in Florida that "opportunities for raises will be in relation to the quaility of their work."

APRIL 8, 1962, AP - TALLAHASSEE - Legislative candidates are beginning to get an earful from teacher and educators on the Merit Pay Plan for teachers written by the 1961 legislature.

...The Merit Pay Plan provided that teachers who scored 600 or more on the national teacher examination could qualify for raises up to $400. ... The FEA director said the national teacher examination was more suited to testing teacher training for new teachers than it was for measuring teaching ability...

Gov. Farris Bryant said he would be glade to see the Merit Pay Plan abolished "provided some method for rewarding good teachers above poor teachers can be devised."

Feb. 16, 1968, MIAMI NEWS columnist Charles Hesser - Regardless of the outcome of the current hazzle over education, a future Legislature, probably the next one, is going to insist upon some kind of a merit pay plan for school teachers.

Members of the Legislature - particularly the Republicans but they have plenty of Democratic company - are growing more and more insistant that they just won't continue to pour hundreds of millions of dollars into a school system that pays a poor or mediocre teacher the same as a superior one.

... The proposal called for testing students at the beginning of a school term with the same test being given at the end of the term. Depending upon student improvement, teachers would or would not receive raises. This is based on the theory that if Johnny can't read it's his teacher's fault.

May 14, 1983, Palm Beach Post - TALLAHASSEE - Gov. Bob Graham yesterday presented a plan for the nation's first statewide merit pay system for school teachers. ...

Teachers would be ranked and selected for merit pay on the basis of their education, work experience, performance on a standardized exam and screening by a committee.

... "We know, sadly, that many of our best teachers are leaving the classroom," Graham said.

NOTE: Graham's plan lasted a bit more than three years before much of it was demolished by later legislatures.

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