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- The legislation would also prohibit public school employees from being required to use a student’s pronouns if they don’t match those they were assigned at birth.
- Opponents said the bill doubles down on discrimination from the state’s Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Two state Republican leaders are pushing to make it more difficult for educators at their state’s public colleges and universities to retain tenure in what they say would depoliticize the classroom.
New Florida legislation alongside legislative proposals from Texas’s lieutenant governor are among the latest attempts by the GOP to put its stamp on education, as well as a slew of other hot-button political issues, including voter redistricting and book bans.
A recent report on the latter concluded that more than 1,500 book bans or restrictions were implemented in the past year. Both Florida and Texas were ranked among the top five states where the most restrictions occurred with Texas leading the way at 713.
But education came to the fore again on Tuesday as Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill that would put teachers up for review by the board of directors every five years — including tenured faculty.
Under the bill, teachers will be evaluated along several metrics, including accomplishments and productivity, and performance metrics, evaluations, and ratings. The evaluations will also address recognition and compensation considerations, as well as improvement plans and consequences for underperformance.
“Florida’s students deserve a quality, affordable education and don’t need ideological activists and political organizations determining what they should learn,” DeSantis said in a statement. “By ushering in strong curriculum transparency requirements and providing accountability for tenured faculty, Florida is standing with students and parents across our state.”
Tenure was originally designed to block political influence in employment decisions before taking on another role of protecting the civil rights of teachers.
A spokesperson for DeSantis told Changing America in an email the bill aims to hold the faculty at state institutions to the highest standards while guarding against “bad behavior” in the classroom.
“Political retribution/discrimination, ineffective teaching, and any form of bad behavior in the classroom is unacceptable for any faculty member, including those who have tenure,” the spokesperson said.
Yet some Florida college educators worry the legislation could bring about larger consequences throughout the state’s university system.
“I’ve never seriously contemplated working anywhere else. Until today. And solely because of decisions made by the Governor and Legislature,” Emilio Bruna, a professor of tropical ecology and Latin American studies at the University of Florida wrote on Twitter. “I’m guessing I’m not alone, which means the future of Florida’s state universities – and hence of the state itself – could be bleak.”
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The tenure plan in Texas takes a decidedly different track with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowing in February to put forward legislation that would end tenure for all new faculty at state colleges. Patrick, who oversees the state senate, said a priority of the next legislative session will be to make the teaching of “critical race theory” a cause for a tenured professor’s dismissal.
“During the upcoming 88th Legislative Session, one of my priorities will be eliminating tenure at all public universities in Texas. To address already-tenured professors, we will change tenure reviews from every 6 years to annually,” Patrick said.
“Additionally, we will define teaching Critical Race Theory in statute as a cause for a tenured professor to be dismissed,” he added.
Free speech advocate Jeremy Young is concerned that initiatives like Patrick’s pose a serious threat to academia. Young, senior manager of free expression and education at PEN America, said in a February statement that Patrick’s plan represents a “mortal threat to academic freedom.”
“Patrick’s proposal is a craven attempt to score political points. It will create a climate of fear among teachers and students alike. It should be rejected,” Young said.
Changing America has reached out to Patrick’s office for comment.
Separate controversial legislation in Florida that prohibits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity to children in kindergarten through third grade – which opponents have dubbed as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill – has also received backing from other Republican lawmakers, including Patrick.
Patrick told supporters in a campaign email earlier this month he would also make modelling a bill after “Don’t Say Gay” a legislative priority.
“Some may think parents, including me, are overreacting. We are not,” Patrick wrote. “If we cannot fight for our children, then what can we fight for?”
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