Florida Teachers Say Deadline To Apply For New Bonuses Is Unfair

Sep 29, 2015

Miami teacher Brigette Kinney said she doesn’t always hear about school news when classes are out for the summer.

So Kinney missed the word that state legislators set aside $44 million for bonuses based on SAT and ACT scores during a special summer budget session. Teachers who scored in the top 20 percent the year they took the exam and earned a “highly effective” teacher evaluation are eligible.

But Kinney said she didn’t learn about the bonuses until she returned to school in August -- and that may have been too late.

The deadline to apply for the scholarships is Thursday. Kinney meets the requirements, but she’s not sure if her scores will arrive in time.

“I was told it would take two to four weeks to get my score, which I knew was going to be very tight,” said Kinney, who teaches English and design in the International Baccalaureate program at Ada Merritt K-8 center.

She called back after three weeks and a supervisor told her SAT had been flooded with requests.

“And he told me that, frankly, there was no way I was going to get my score reports by Oct. 1"

Kinney took the SAT in 1988. She's got her Graduate Record Examination scores -- the entrance exam for graduate school. She even found IQ scores at her parents' home. But teachers can only qualify for the bonuses with ACT or SAT scores – which excludes foreign-born teachers who never took the exams.

Last week Kinney learned that she could submit college transcripts, but Florida State University couldn’t get those to her before Oct. 1 either.

The companies that run ACT and SAT – the two biggest college entrance exams – say they’ve been inundated by Florida teachers needing a copy of their scores.

“We’ve had a much higher volume of requests,” said Ed Colby, spokesman for ACT. “We’re working hard to meet the deadline.”

ACT is expediting transcript requests and sending them priority mail -- for free -- to make sure teachers receive them on time.

Colby said that Florida is the only state he knows of paying teachers bonuses based on college entrance exam scores.

“The volume of requests for archived score reports has been higher than usual this year,” Jose Rios, a spokesman for The College Board, which runs the SAT,  said by email, “so some requests may be taking longer to fulfill than indicated on the order form.”

Florida Department of Education spokeswoman Cheryl Etters said the agency can’t do anything to change the Thursday deadline because it’s written into state law.

Younger teachers can receive scores more quickly online. But Kinney said the deadline isn’t fair for veteran teachers who have to wait for a paper copy.

Efforts to reach Rep. Erik Fresen,  R-Miami, who proposed the scholarships, were unsuccessful.

If lots of teachers qualify, the bonuses could be much less than $10,000. But Kinney is a single mother and said the money could help pay for a master’s degree.

“Which is something that I’ve wanted to do for a long time,” she said, “but haven’t been able to afford to do. And that would be a good investment in my salary permanently.”