Rhonda Lochiatt, a fifth-grade teacher from Volusia County, says she's excited about the Senate passage of the Student Success Act and the promising path of its counterpart in the House.
"Teachers have always wanted to be treated as professionals and this is finally our chance," said Lochiatt. "For me, this is the direction we need to go."
Last year, the Florida Education Association organized protests at the Capitol and flooded former Gov. Charlie Crist's office with phone calls. They distributed information to teachers making the case that bills getting rid of the last-one-hired-first-one-fired system and basing pay partly on evaluations were bad for teachers.
"It's not about teachers," said Lochiatt. "It's about the students. First and foremost, it's about the kids."
Lochiatt isn't alone in her convictions about education reform, but says many teachers don't speak out because of the potential for retaliation from the union, or their own lack of tenure.
"I'm fortunate enough to be in a situation where I can speak out," she said. "I have that wonderful thing called tenure, so they can't fire me."
During the House education committee meeting Wednesday, another teacher, this one protected by retirement, voiced her opinions to the committee.
Jean Morris, who worked nearly 50 years as a teacher in Pinellas County, told representatives that instead of being focused on students, too many teachers are focused on their own job security.
"I taught school for 47 years and I had tenure. But I knew that I really didn't need it. My heart was in my job, and my work spoke for itself," said Morris.
But Michael Monroe, an Education Policy Analyst for FEA, said the Student Success Act will be used to punish more than reward.
"We believe there's a small percentage of teachers who are ineffective. I want that on the record," he said. "But this bill does not address the 95 percent of teachers who are doing a great, or highly-effective job."
Other opponents warned that by passing the legislation, teachers seeking jobs would be less likely to want to come to a state that doesn't have tenure.
Lochiatt disagrees with both points.
"I don't understand how you're going to turn teachers off from coming into the profession when you're looking at the opportunity to make more money," she said. "To me, that's an incentive to want to come teach."
The House version of the Student Success Act, HB 7019, passed through the education committee with a 12-6 vote, members voting along party lines. It is set to be voted on the House floor next week.
Lane Wright can be reached at email@example.com or 561-247-1063.