TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) – Former Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who’s considering a run for the White House, told Republican lawmakers Wednesday they’ll be national leaders in education reform if they finally put into law a teacher merit pay bill former that Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed last year.
The bill would have tied teacher raises to test scores, made it easier to fire teachers and provided more school choice. Crist vetoed it and soon after changed his voter registration from Republican to no party at all. He then lost an independent bid for Senate.
Pawlenty, expected to announce his presidential plans in the next two months, said the veto denied Florida a chance to set an example for the country.
“This issue of teacher recruitment, preparedness, training, effectiveness, accountability and removal is one of the most important things the nation can do and Florida is in a position to lead the country on that issue,” Pawlenty said to applause. “I hope you do it. I plead with you to do it.”
After his remarks, Pawlenty again talked about how important the bill would have been.
“That bill was one of the leading pieces of legislation in education reform in the nation and if the Florida Legislature and the governor can sign anything close to that they would do a great service to the cause of education reform and accountability for the entire nation. I and many other would stand up and cheer and applaud,” Pawlenty said.
The bill was a top Republican priority and Crist initially said he supported it. He later changed his mind, saying teachers convinced him it wasn’t good for schools. He was loudly criticized by Republican leaders, including his predecessor Jeb Bush, when he vetoed it.
“I would salivate, I would dream about a bill like that having come to my desk when I was governor. I wish I could have gotten a bill like that,” Pawlenty said.
The Legislature is expected to pass a similar bill this year and it will likely be signed by new Republican Gov. Rick Scott.
Senate President Mike Haridopolos is inviting all prospective 2012 GOP presidential candidates to come to Florida to talk to lawmakers. Pawlenty was the first to do so.
Florida, already an important state in presidential elections, will gain two electoral votes in the 2012 election, giving it 29. President Barack Obama carried Florida in 2008, but the state is expected to be a battleground when he seeks re-election.
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