Court dismissed suit against teacher tenure and merit pay law

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A measure to end automatic tenure and require merit pay for teachers was proposed for years, forwarded by Governor Jeb Bush, passed by the Legislature in 2010, vetoed by Governor Charlie Crist, passed again by the Legislature in 2011 and signed into law by Governor Rick Scott, only to be challenged in court by a Florida Education Association lawsuit which was, on Thursday, dismissed by a circuit court judge and deemed fit to stand as law.

That was a long sentence — but perhaps this ruling may be the last major punctuation mark in the timeline under which Florida school boards begin to implement the measure.

In dismissing the case with prejudice, Judge John C. Cooper ruled in favor of the state, finding the law “facially constitutional” and prevented plaintiffs from filing the suit again on the same claim. 

The suit was brought by the FEA on behalf of six teachers who felt the law wrongly dictates contracts between school boards and unions, and unfairly evaluates and rewards teachers based on student growth.  The suit further alleged that law represents a wrongful delegation of legislative authority by failing to provide proper guidelines to the State Board of Education.

Cooper disagreed, stating that the law constitutes a lawful delegation of authority in that it “details specific requirements for the evaluation system and the development of performance levels.”

Further, he ruled that there is nothing in the law that prevents collective bargaining, stating, “because the plaintiffs cannot demonstrate a constitutional violation, their challenge must fail.”

A similar suit, filed in federal court last month, brings the charge that the law violates teachers’ constitutional rights of due process and equal protection of laws; but if in Thursday’s ruling the suit failed to justify less esoteric complaints, this federal suit faces an uphill battle.