Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas may be among the first counties to test a pilot merit pay program.
If the state gives its okay, teachers in Pinellas, Hillsborough and Pasco counties may be among the first in Florida to test a new merit pay program.
Those school districts are among nine in Florida that have applied for grants to pilot a program beginning in January that allows teachers to earn higher salaries. The goal is to encourage high-quality educators to stay in the classroom.
Through the program, all teachers would be grouped into one of four levels - associate, professional, lead and mentor - based on their experience, extra duties and evaluations. They could earn between $1,000 and $8,000 extra annually.
Teachers must apply for the top two levels.
The state Department of Education has set aside $25-million for districts willing to try out the career ladder program, which will be put into place statewide next school year.
The Hillsborough School Board approved the four levels Tuesday, a move endorsed by the teachers union, the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers Association.
Union executive director Yvonne Lyons said the career ladder gives educators an opportunity to take on more responsibilities and be rewarded for them.
"There's always a higher level to move up to," she said.
The grants are further evidence of the state's determination to move away from the traditional method of paying teachers based on education level and experience.
Last year, for example, Florida teachers and administrators began competing for 5 percent bonuses through a performance pay program that paid more if they could demonstrate outstanding work in the classroom. Many teachers used their students' test scores as evidence.
In Hillsborough this year, teachers in high-poverty schools received a 5 percent bonus. Teachers also can get extra pay by completing the rigorous National Board Certification program.