A Leon County circuit judge Thursday sided with the state in a constitutional challenge to a 2011 law that links teacher pay and evaluations to student performance.
A group of teachers, backed by the Florida Education Association, contended in the challenge that the law violated constitutionally guaranteed collective-bargaining rights and that lawmakers had given too much decision-making authority to the state Board of Education.
But Circuit Judge John Cooper rejected the arguments in seven-page order, finding that the law does not “explicitly bar collective bargaining.”
“While the court finds it undisputed that the challenged provisions implicate mandatory subjects of bargaining, the court finds it equally undisputed that the act does not explicitly prohibit collective bargaining over any of the subjects embraced in its provisions,” Cooper wrote.
Andy Ford, president of the Florida Education Association, issued a statement expressing disappointment, but he left open the possibility that the union could appeal the ruling or undertake additional legal challenges.
“We’re discouraged that the court ruled against FEA members,” Ford said. “But there’s nothing in the ruling that prevents us from going to court in the future when specific aspects of SB 736 (the 2011 bill number) impairs our members’ collective bargaining rights. We believe that this has occurred already and will continue to occur throughout the state as this flawed law is implemented.”
The law, known as the “Student Success Act,” has been a highly controversial issue in the state’s education system, with supporters touting it as a way to spur improved schools and critics saying it would not be fair to teachers.
The teachers and FEA filed the lawsuit in 2011 and, in a later court document, said the law dictates numerous issues that ordinarily would be subject to collective bargaining.
“Senate Bill 736 prohibits an employer and an employee organization from agreeing to (or continuing to agree to) certain wages, hours and terms and conditions of employment that are customary in labor relations generally and public educational relationships in particular,” the November 2012 document said.
But attorneys for the state Board of Education and the state Department of Education responded in a document that the law is “facially neutral” about collective bargaining.
“The plaintiffs claim that any change to the educational system must be bargained,” the state’s attorneys wrote. “This would achieve unintended and unworkable results and is not what the law requires or mandates.”
Along with ruling against the teachers and union on the collective-bargaining issue, Cooper also rejected arguments that the law is unconstitutional because it delegates too much authority to the Board of Education to develop critical standards to measure learning growth. Broadly, the issue is about the separation of powers between the Legislature and the executive branch.
While the FEA lost in the circuit court, it also recently filed a federal challenge that alleges the law violates rights of teachers who are evaluated on test scores of students or subjects they don’t teach.