Florida Teachers’ union sues state alleging mix of merit pay and performance based evaluations violate US Constitution

The Orlando Sentinel reports that teachers in three school districts, along with their local unions, have filed suit in federal court charging Florida’s sweeping merit-pay law unfairly resulted in many teachers’ evaluations being based on the test scores of students or subjects they did not teach in violation of the equal-protection and due-process clauses of the U.S. Constitution.  The suit names the state education commissioner, the State Board of Education and the Alachua, Escambia and Hernando school boards as defendants.

According to Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association (FEA), “This lawsuit highlights the absurdity of the evaluation system that has come about as a result of SB 736.”  Senate Bill 736 was the merit-pay legislation the Florida Legislature adopted in 2011, overhauling how teachers are evaluated, promoted and paid.

FEA wants implementation of the law halted, teachers’ evaluations from the 2011-12 school year set aside and then the evaluation system revamped.  Its lawsuit is backed by the National Education Association, as well.

Education Commissioner Tony Bennett said in a statement he supports the law.  But he also said he backs legislative efforts to make sure teachers are not subject to it until an “appropriate assessment for their students and subjects is in place.”

FEA already has sued Florida over the merit-pay law in a circuit court, arguing the law violates the state constitution and infringes on teachers’ rights to bargain collectively.  The new lawsuit claims violations of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution stemming from how test-score data was used to judge teacher quality.

The law, which is being phased in, changed teacher evaluations to base half on student growth as measured by test-score data.  To do that, the state used a complicated “value added” formula to crunch students’ reading and math scores on the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test.  School districts are to use other tests and formulas to judge teachers who do not teach the so-called FCAT subjects or grades.  But those are not available yet.  So in the meantime, school-wide FCAT data was used to judge most teachers.

Source: Orlando Sentinel, 4/16/13, By Leslie Postal

[Editor's Note: In April 2012, Legal Clips summarized an article on News4Jax.com reporting that FEA had filed a challenge in the Division of Administrative Hearings to proposed Florida Department of Education (FDE) rules implementing  the 2011 law that includes teacher performance pay.  The FEA claims FDE officials would overstep their legal authority in determining how school districts evaluate teachers.]

Tags: , , , , , ,