Judge dismisses challenge to Florida teacher law

Judge dismisses challenge to Fla. law setting teacher merit pay, ending tenure for new hires

Associated Press

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A circuit judge Thursday tossed out a lawsuit challenging a state law requiring merit pay for teachers and ending tenure for new hires.

Judge John C. Cooper ruled in favor of the state and dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the plaintiffs cannot refile the suit.

Relying in part on recent court decisions, he found the law "facially constitutional and (that it) constitutes a lawful delegation of legislative authority."

A similar suit, however, was filed in federal court in Gainesville last month, claiming the law violates teachers' constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of laws.

The Florida Education Association brought the state lawsuit on behalf of six teachers. A spokeswoman for the organization could not be immediately reached Thursday night.

The suit challenged the Student Success Act passed in 2011, claiming its evaluation system — partly based on scores from the high-stakes Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test — violated a state constitutional right to collective bargaining.

The law wrongly dictated the terms of contracts between school boards and local unions, they said.

They faulted a teacher evaluation system that is based half on student growth as measured by standardized exams. Those evaluations are then used to set performance-based salary schedule.

But "the text of the (law) at issue here does not explicitly bar collective bargaining," Cooper wrote. "Because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a constitutional violation, their challenge must fail."

The suit had also alleged that the law creates a wrongful delegation of legislative authority by directing the State Board of Education to develop performance standards without proper guidelines.

Not so, Cooper said. The law "details specific requirements for the evaluation system and the development of performance levels."

The law has been the focus of public debate for years. The Republican-controlled Legislature passed a similar bill in 2010, but it was vetoed by then-Gov. Charlie Crist. The 2011 version was the first bill signed into law by Crist's successor, Gov. Rick Scott.

The federal lawsuit claims that performance evaluations mandated by the law grade Florida's teachers on subjects and students they don't teach, which they called "arbitrary, irrational and unfair."

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