Crist to Decide on the Most Heated Bill Since Our 42nd President

In recent press, Gov. Crist has said that he's human. That's what Palm Beach County schoolteachers are counting on as Crist, currently campaigning for the Senate, reviews a bill that would end tenure and hinge teachers' pay on student performance on standardized tests, mainly the (maligned) FCAT. Crist's decision will come as early as Thursday or as late as midnight Friday, but in the meantime, the most incensed of recent state educational debates heats up.

"In no other profession do they claim that education means nothing," says Robert Dow, president of the Palm Beach County Classroom Teacher's Association. "They're going to take away pay for all postgrad degrees in higher education. In no other profession do they claim that experience means nothing."

Dow believes that the merit pay bill is part of a long-term goal to privatize public education. Senate Bill 2580 pushes a single-provider health-care network for the entire state that "will go to the lowest bidder," Dow says, citing other bills that look to drastically decrease teachers' retirement benefits. "It's just money.

"I actually heard Jeb Bush contend that his organization is the largest charter school organization in the state," Dow says.

Meanwhile, county teachers virtually unanimously back a veto of the merit pay bill. They point out that students' test performances are not always accurate correlates to teachers' efforts; that focus would shift even more drastically from pure education to "teaching the test"; and that incentives to teach special-needs children and others most in need will be all but eliminated.

"Senate Bill 6 will drive teachers away from the most needy students, because if their pay is based on student progression, wouldn't they rather be at a socioeconomically strong, high-performing school than where students are struggling?" Dow asks.

Crist has two sisters who are former schoolteachers, and he has said that he's listening closely to them, as well as to the backlash of the community, which he says is "the most intense" he's ever experienced. However, a veto of the merit pay bill would infuriate his Republican base: The bill is backed by business interests and most  Republican politicians, including party celebrity former Gov. Jeb Bush. Senate-hopeful Crist has already annoyed his conservative constituents by tossing a high-priority campaign finance bill, among other dissident actions. At least one of his House Republican backers has said that a veto of the merit pay bill would cause him to withdraw his support of the governor's Senate run.

But if the bill passes, Palm Beach schoolteachers will be "low on morale, have more frustration, more anger, and you'll see more teachers leaving the profession," Dow says.

That's why schoolteachers are hoping that Crist is -- as he says -- not just a politician but a human being.

What do you think? Should Crist veto the bill -- why or why not? How will his decision affect you? Let us know in the comments box.

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