I know, many of you are not interested in Florida politics, but what is happening in Florida is now happening throughout the United States. Since the Obama Administration has been dangling over $4 Billion in "Race to the Top" Education funds, States have been climbing all over themselves to get a piece of that Federal pie. Included in the "Race" fund requirements, are regulations requiring teachers first meet student achievement goals before they are eligible to receive any increase in pay or bonuses. And what does Florida go and do? They commit to the ideology that no bonus or merit pay shall be provided to teachers unless they are evaluated as "Highly Effective." Makes sense, until you learn that in order to be evaluated as "Highly Effective," a teacher must be observed countless times in his/her classroom and after achieving an evaluation score from their observing administrator, a "value added" score is then included in their evaluation. What is a "Value Added" Score?
From personal experience I can tell you it is the most outrageous way of evaluating any employee, let alone a teacher. In my case, in 2012, I received the highest evaluation score possible (100 points). According to my actual observations, my administrator rated me as "Highly Effective." But now add the "Value Added" score and my overall score drops from a solid 4 out of 4, to a 3 out of 4. Why? Because my score was reduced by the overall scores on the 10th Grade Reading Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test ("FCAT"). Sounds fair right? Except I do not teach 10th graders. I have never met these students. Then how in the world can my overall evaluation score be reduced by the FCAT performance of these students? I know, we all are a team, but merit pay is based on individual teacher performance, so why rig the system to preclude any (or very few) teachers from receiving merit pay? By analogy, that is like the water company cutting off your water service because a neighbor down the street used too much while watering his lawn. There is no relationship between the neighbor's use of water and yours, yet you are penalized. This makes sense to no one, except the elected officials in the Florida Statehouse!
Sound equitable? Florida teachers earn average salaries roughly $10,000 less than the national average. Since becoming a teacher, I have neither been paid a "step" increase for every year of teaching experience I have earned or had a raise of any kind, and neither have my dedicated colleagues. Moreover, the State of Florida decided public employees had to contribute 3% of the gross pay towards their pensions in the Florida Retirement System ("FRS"). But after teachers unions in Florida sued to invalidate the unilateral pension contribution, the Florida Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the State may impose contribution requirements. I am okay with this, as it was represented to teachers that the money contributed would go directly into the FRS to shore up pension shortfalls. But the money did not actually go into the FRS. What? According to Supreme Court Justice R. Fred Lewis, none of the contributions made by public employees to shore up the public pension fund actually went to FRS! So where did the money go instead? Into the General Fund, just like any other revenue collected by the State in the form of taxes. Although Florida does not (allegedly) have a personal income tax, they do now for public employees (3%). Which leads me to the obvious observation.
As long as our "representatives" in government misrepresent legislation in an effort to win public support for ideologically oriented political policies, citizens will continue to be misrepresented in our Statehouses and Congress. So how do we stop this? We vote to elect new representatives interested in protecting the best interests of all citizens. Now that my local representative to the United States House of Representatives has voted to support CISPA as well as the Bill to authorize employers the right to demand access to private passwords to social media outlets, I will not be voting for him, no matter how well he handles constituent services. Diluting fundamental Constitutional rights is enough for me to stand up and say "no!"
Isn't it time citizens begin voting in their best interests and not against their personal interests? Isn't it time our elected officials begin to fear the voters instead of the pressure exerted by interest groups pushing their own legislative objectives? As President Thomas Jefferson once wrote, "Do you want to know who you are? Don't ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you," It's time to start reacting to the reality that our elected officials do not represent our best interests and routinely pay us lip service when they seek re-election. It's time to act! Like Jefferson, I think the mid-term elections on both the State and National level will define us. Do we want more of the same, or do we want change? Change requires work and the work can be hard. But hard work never hurt anyone, especially if it strengthens our resolve to improve our democratic-republic. Isn't it time to report to work?