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2010 August 9 - 12:00 am

MONEY TREE: Fla. Candidate’s Education Proposal Would Remove Tenure

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Republican gubernatorial candidate Bill McCollum announced his education platform, saying he wants to make it easier to fire teachers by eliminating tenure and base their pay raises on classroom performance instead of seniority.

McCollum also said he would reward public colleges and universities based on their graduation rates and increase funding for community colleges and vocational education programs.

He also wants to increase standards for teachers in the state’s voluntary pre-kindergarten program for 4-year-olds, expand a program that gives corporations tax breaks for providing private school scholarships for low-income students and require most high school students to take at least one course online.

“We have to set priorities that we haven’t had to set before,” said McCollum, the state’s attorney general who faces Naples businessman Rick Scott in an Aug. 24 primary showdown of conservative Republicans. “Government is going to be involved until we see significant improvement in student improvement.”

Scott’s positions on the major issues largely mirror McCollum’s.

“In order for Florida to attract business, compete effectively in the global economy, and create 21st century jobs we must have an educated workforce,” Scott said in a statement released by his campaign. “I am committed to improving education and putting Florida back to work.”

McCollum largely embraces the educational philosophies of former Gov. Jeb Bush, with merit pay for teachers a key element.

“I think most teachers want to see good teachers rewarded,” said McCollum, a product of Florida’s public education system from elementary school through law school. “We must make sure they meet escalating professional standards. (We have) a very serious problem in our state.”

A highly controversial Senate bill (SB 6) that included similar proposals was vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist this spring, but is sure to be resurrected again in the 2011 session when there will be a new governor.

Under McCollum’s proposal, tenure would be phased out for new teachers, who would receive raises based on how their students perform, rather than on seniority. Current teachers would be allowed to waive tenure in return for receiving merit raises if they are judged to have performed well. District superintendents and principals would be allowed to easily fire teachers who are deemed underperforming.

The state teachers union worked hard against SB6, arguing the lack of job security would discourage good teachers from working in Florida. Union leaders also argued that testing can be skewed by outside factors such as students’ home lives. It says McCollum’s plan is more of the same.

“It doesn’t look a whole lot different from the blueprint that Republicans have been following the last few years,” Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow said. “It appears that McCollum hasn’t really gauged the view of some people, teachers and parents to SB6.”

McCollum’s other proposals include:

Improve instruction in elementary and middle schools to support increased high school graduation requirements, particularly in math and science.

Encourage school districts to work with local employers to develop programs that will support their work force needs.

Allow online schools in other states and countries to enroll Florida students. He would also require that every high school student, where possible, take at least one online course before graduation.

Give financial incentives for college students to major in science, technology, engineering or math, including lower tuition and possibly loan forgiveness.

The candidate conceded that priorities would have to be determined because of the recession’s affect on state government.

“We’re going to be in a very difficult time,” he said. “Some programs will have to be eliminated, at least in the short run. Some programs will have to be consolidated. Where do we put our resources?”

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