Out of Florida state court comes a proposed class action lawsuit that claims the state’s Department of Education instructed school districts to skim money off classroom teachers’ bonus amounts in order to cover payroll expenses.
Out of Florida state court comes a proposed class action lawsuit that claims the state’s Department of Education (DOE) instructed school districts to skim money off classroom teachers’ bonus amounts in order to cover payroll expenses.
That lawsuit explains that under the Florida Best and Brightest Teacher Scholarship Program, schoolteachers who meet certain criteria are eligible to receive one or more of three annual bonuses. According to the lawsuit, the statute specifies that $6,000 will be awarded to teachers who “achieved a composite score at or above the 80th percentile on either the SAT or ACT and who were evaluated as ‘highly effective,’” while $1,200 will be awarded to teachers who “have been evaluated as ‘highly effective’ in the school year immediately preceding” and “up to $800” will be awarded to teachers who “have been evaluated as ‘effective.’”
The lawsuit argues that the statute, originally signed in July 2015 and updated in 2017, is “direct and unambiguous” and clearly states the specific amounts to be paid to teachers who meet the criteria for two of the three bonuses.
The plaintiff claims, however, that the DOE violated the terms of the program by instructing school districts to pay teachers less than the amounts mandated by the state.
Specifically, the DOE allegedly released two memorandums—in January 2018 and March 2019—in which it authorized school districts to “subtract [from teachers’ bonuses] any employer portion of applicable payroll taxes and mandatory payroll expenses,” including Social Security tax, Medicare tax, unemployment and worker’s compensation insurance. As a result, the case alleges, Florida classroom teachers who were eligible for bonuses received less than the amounts specified by the Best and Brightest program.
“The statute establishes the requirements which the teachers must meet, and the specific bonus amounts to be awarded to those who meet or exceed those requirements,” the complaint argues. “It does not have any qualifying language or clauses in it which states the DOE or any school district can award and pay less than the Program’s stated bonus amounts (other than the third bonus amount of up to $800).”
The lawsuit estimates that during the 2018-2019 school year, more than 171,000 classroom teachers received at least one of the program’s bonuses.