Crist Vetoes SB 6, Takes Bold Stand for Florida Schools

By Kevin Hart

With a stroke of his pen, Florida Gov. Charlie Crist took a bold stand today for the state’s students, educators and schools.

The Republican governor, defying his own party, vetoed the controversial Senate Bill 6, which education experts say would have made Florida one of the most teacher-hostile states in the country, while also leaving counties with a massive, unfunded mandate.

“It has nothing to do with politics at all, and everything to do with the children of Florida,” Crist said announcing the veto.

The bill, introduced by Florida GOP Chair John Thrasher, was pushed through the GOP-controlled Senate and House, although several Republicans broke ranks after becoming uncomfortable with many of the bill’s key provisions. The bill was opposed by teacher, administrator and parent groups, and drew most of its support from former Gov. Jeb Bush and the Florida Chamber of Commerce, which apparently felt more qualified to craft education policy than the people who work daily in Florida’s schools.

SB 6 contained numerous anti-education provisions. If signed, SB 6 would have:

  • Made students little more than a test score. The bill would have mandated more standardized testing and required that all teachers be retained, certified and compensated based on student test scores on standardized tests. Supporters of the bill had positioned this provision as potential bonus pay, but pledged no additional money from the state to pay for it.
  • Shown students that continuing their education was not important. The bill would have penalized school districts that even considered length of service or degrees held when determining compensation for teachers or reductions in force. Experts said this was tantamount to the state showing students that pursuing a higher degree, such as a master’s or doctorate, was of no value.
  • Eliminated job security for hard-working Florida educators. SB 6 would have ordered that teachers be issued probationary contracts for up to five years; then an annual contract every year after that, eliminating due process. Florida is already in the bottom half of the nation for teacher salaries, according to NEA’s annual Rankings & Estimates report, and educators warned that low salary and poor job security would make Florida a less attractive teaching destination, compared to neighboring states.
  • Put salary decisions in the hands of politicians. SB 6 would have excluded the salary schedule as a subject of collective bargaining. Salary determinations would be made by the state.

The bill was incredibly unpopular among most Floridians. Crist’s office said it received tens of thousands of calls, e-mails and letters opposing the bill, compared to only hundreds in support. Some polls showed up to 90% of Floridians opposed the bill.

The bill was seen by many as an insult to educators just a year after Florida schools received a record number of ‘A’ grades under a state rating system.

“Today was an important day for Florida’s students,” NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said in a statement. “The governor recognized that the key to great public schools is great teachers, and the way to keep great teachers in Florida’s classrooms is to empower them, not punish them.”

The Florida Education Association, NEA’s affiliate in the Sunshine State, played a pivotal role in mobilizing educators, parents, and other community stakeholders against the bill. Thousands of educators visited the state capitol and took to the streets in their districts to oppose the bill.

“We’re thankful that the governor realized what some lawmakers wouldn’t,” said FEA President Andy Ford. “SB 6 was formulated without an ounce of input from anyone within the public school community. Teachers, administrators and parents weren’t consulted and their views of this radical legislation were dismissed repeatedly by many legislators. But Governor Crist listened.”

Several superintendents and the Florida Schools Boards Association also publicly opposed the bill, saying it was an unfunded mandate and unfair to teachers who were already being asked to do more with less due to state budget shortfalls.

Crist said the voices of educators were loud, and he listened. He stressed his ongoing commitment to working with educators to improve Florida schools.

“Florida has made tremendous gains in our education system,” Crist said. “We can not and must not stop.”

Photo from Charlie Crist for U.S. Senate Campaign