Florida Teacher Bonuses Based on Own SAT Scores Called Unfair

From labor disputes cases to labor and employment publications, for your research, you’ll find solutions on Bloomberg Law®. Protect your clients by developing strategies based on Litigation...

By Madison Alder and Patrick Dorrian

A 2015 Florida law creating monetary bonuses for “highly effective” teachers based in part on their own SAT and ACT scores has a discriminatory impact on teachers who are black, Hispanic, or over 40, a federal lawsuit charges ( Fla. Educ. Ass’n v. Fla. Dep’t of Educ. , N.D. Fla., No. 4:17-cv-00414, complaint filed 9/13/17 ).

“The purpose of the program is to award the teachers that best educated the children of Florida,” John Clark Davis, the attorney representing the teachers, told Bloomberg BNA Sept. 14. The Florida Department of Education has “chosen a system that doesn’t do that.”

The class action was filed Sept. 13 by six teachers and the Florida Education Association against the Florida Department of Education, all 67 county school boards, and the trustees of six universities and specialized schools. The complaint alleges that the state’s Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program has an illegal disparate impact based on age and race and that the use of teachers’ SAT and ACT scores isn’t job-related or required by business necessity.

“There isn’t a correlation between how someone scores on a college entrance exam and their quality as a teacher,” Davis said.

Under the law, which was included in a 2015 appropriations bill “at the 11th hour without debate,” 5,332 teachers were awarded bonuses of $8,256 for the 2015-2016 school year, the complaint says.

A spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Education told Bloomberg BNA the department doesn’t comment on litigation.

Statistical Disparity

The complaint includes statistical breakdowns for race and age based on data obtained from the Florida Department of Education.

Black teachers received less than 1 percent of the bonuses and Hispanic teachers only 4 percent, even though the two groups’ representation among teachers statewide was roughly 13 percent each, the lawsuit alleges.

The awarding of bonuses to teachers over 40 shows a similar statistically significant disparity.

Youth Advantage

In addition to scoring in the 80th percentile on their SAT or ACT, teachers who are eligible for the program must have been evaluated as “highly effective.” Educators who are in their first year of teaching, however, are exempt from the “highly effective” stipulation, as they haven’t been evaluated yet.

“That’s the oddball thing about this program,” Davis said. Some teachers who received the bonus hadn’t yet taught in their first classroom, but received a high score on their college placement exam, he said.

Teachers under 40 made up approximately 56 percent of the bonus recipients, though they were only about a third of those who were rated “highly effective.”

‘High Impact Teachers’ Snubbed

Many of the teachers who were not eligible to receive the bonus, including two of the plaintiffs, were recognized as “High Impact Teachers” by the Florida Department of Education, Davis said. High Impact Teacher awards are given to Florida educators who are identified as having a significant impact on their students.

“There are better ways to award the teachers,” Davis said. “They already have the high impact rating and they have the highly effective rating.”

The complaint alleges discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Florida Civil Rights Act of 1992.

The Florida Education Association is represented by The Law Office of John C. Davis and Spriggs Law Firm. It’s not clear yet who will represent the Florida Department of Education.

To contact the reporters on this story: Madison Alder in Washington at malder@bna.com; Patrick Dorrian in Washington at pdorrian@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com

For More Information

Copyright © 2017 The Bureau of National Affairs, Inc. All Rights Reserved.

Request Labor & Employment on Bloomberg Law