Sink unveils plan to retool Florida’s public schools

Published: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 10:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 10:35 p.m.

TALLAHASSEE — From placing a college-degreed teacher in every Pre-K classroom to establishing a merit pay plan for teachers, Alex Sink on Wednesday unveiled her ideas to revamp Florida's public education system.

The Democratic candidate for governor called for helping students on the verge of dropping out of school. She said she would revise the way the FCAT is used to grade schools. She wants to increase the amount of state aid to financially struggling students who want to go to college.

But while Sink offered a sweeping plan, it lacked some key details — including how the state would finance many of the initiatives.

"Without a strong education system, Florida cannot build a more prosperous economy because the quality of our workforce depends directly on the quality of our schools," Sink said in a statement as she announced the plan at Miami Dade College.

Noting her son and daughter graduated from Florida public schools, Sink, the state's chief financial officer who faces Republican Rick Scott in the Nov. 2 election, said her reforms will be focused at the "local level, instead of the top-down system of micromanagement and unfunded mandates that we have seen for too long from Tallahassee politicians."

One of her key promises was to improve teacher pay.

Although the details are incomplete, Sink said the higher pay would be based on a "performance-based system that rewards excellence and recognizes additional demands placed on participating teachers."

She said the merit system would be developed with "local collaboration" of school districts and teachers and would involve some way of measuring teacher and student performance so that teachers could be "fairly rated."

The issue of merit pay for teachers has been a controversial debate in Tallahassee in the last year. The Republican-led Legislature passed a bill (SB 6) earlier this year that would have made it easier to hire and fire teachers, with the idea that high-performing teachers could be rewarded and low performers would be more likely to lose their jobs. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the bill.

Sink opposed SB 6, while Scott has said he would have signed it if he were governor.

Scott, who has yet to outline his education plan, though, has also said while he supports a merit-pay plan, he would seek teacher input in developing the proposal.

A spokesman for the Florida Education Association, the state's teachers' union, which supports Sink, said teachers want to see the details of Sink's performance pay plan but her promise to work with teachers in developing the proposal is a "good start.

Mark Pudlow said teachers were looking for a plan that "everyone can buy into" and includes a commitment by the state to fund it over the long term.

Pudlow said the lack of funding remains a challenge for state schools as officials call for increasing standards and performance in the classrooms.

Another potentially costly initiative from Sink calls for placing a teacher with a college degree in each pre-kindergarten classroom. Sink said she support a "reasonable timeline" for making that transition.

For high schools, Sink said she wants to improve the way the state tracks students who may drop out and direct more aid and options to them.

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