J Pat Carter, Associated Press
Students from SD Spady elementary school, including Bella DeFilippis, (holding sign) wait to welcome Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who outlined his education budget recommendations, Monday, Jan. 27, 2014 during a stop in Delray Beach, Fla.

Starting next year, Florida teachers will be given the option of joining a new merit-pay system or the older but safer system tied to seniority. But enthusiasm for the merit-pay program remains low, the Sun Sentinel reports, as teachers fear a murky system that offers limited rewards in exchange for high risk.

The new law requires that teachers on performance-pay contracts get the highest raises at the school, but, as the Sun Sentinel notes, "there are no state rules dictating how much higher the pay needs to be, and skeptics say districts could offer $1 more a year and still meet the letter of the law."

Moreover, many teachers fear their grade range or specialty will leave them adrift when it comes to measuring performance.

"Art, music and physical education aren't measured on state standardized tests, and teachers in kindergarten through second grade don't have any students taking a state test," the Sun Sentinel notes. "In those instances, teachers get evaluated on how well the school does as a whole. A high performing teacher at a struggling school is penalized, while an under-performer at a top school is rewarded, critics say."

On a related front, Florida teachers have gone to court to fight plans to evaluate performance based on standardized tests that, the teachers union argues, often don't reflect the work of the teacher being judged.

"In a federal lawsuit, the Florida Education Association teacher's union or FEA claims in three of the state's counties, teachers are being evaluated from the scores of students they don't teach and for subjects they don't teach based on provisions of a 2011 state senate bill," WCTV in Florida reports.

The battle over teacher pay and performance standards has become a key issue in the Florida governors race this summer, where former Gov. Charlie Crist is attempting to win back his old job, this time as a Democrat rather than a Republican.

Crist vetoed a teacher merit-pay bill during his final year as governor. He met last week with teachers in Leon County, pledging to undo "everything" incumbent Gov. Rick Scott has done on education, including the teacher merit-pay law, the Orlando Sentinel notes.

“This election is four and half months and you should have hope,” Crist said. “Because I was good to you when I was there before, and I’ll be good to you again.”

Email: eschulzke@desnews.com

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