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    Bush frowns on FCAT payouts

    ''I think it's the wrong approach,'' the governor says of the Hernando schools that plan to reward high-scorers.

    By STEPHEN HEGARTY and ROBERT KING

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 17, 2001


    "I think it's the wrong approach," the governor says of the Hernando schools that plan to reward high-scorers.

    TAMPA -- Gov. Jeb Bush, who has given cash rewards to schools and teachers for academic excellence, said Wednesday that he draws the line at giving money to students for getting high scores on the FCAT.

    "I think it's the wrong approach," Bush said when asked about Hernando County middle schools that plan to reward students with checks. "Good intentions maybe, but the wrong approach."

    Bush was asked whether there is really any difference between paying teachers extra money for performance, and paying students.

    "There is a big difference between paying a kid and giving a bonus to a teacher," Bush said. "Maybe a pizza party or something like that. But not money."

    Despite the governor's reaction, principals at the two Hernando schools plan to go forward with the student payouts. And they were surprised that a governor who created a cash incentive plan for Florida's schools has reservations about a cash incentive plan for kids.

    "What the state is doing is no different than what we're doing," said Parrott Middle School principal Marvin Gordon, who will give away more than $4,000 to students on Friday.

    At West Hernando Middle School, which actually paid out $1,400 to students last year, principal Ken Pritz said students, who are the ones being tested, should share the rewards.

    "It would be interesting to know how he sees a difference there," Pritz said.

    Even Hernando School Board member Gail Coleman, who opposes cash payments to students, said the governor's statement seems inconsistent with his record. "It is an odd comment for him to make given that he has helped create the atmosphere for this," Coleman said.

    Last year, Bush awarded more than $80-million in school recognition money statewide -- a reward to schools that excelled or improved on FCAT. Some schools spent that money on teacher bonuses. In what has become an annual tradition, Bush has made well-publicized visits to schools to hand checks to proud principals for their hard work.

    But Bush and Lt. Gov. Frank Brogan expressed discomfort Wednesday at the news that at least two schools were preparing to hand out checks to proud students for their hard work. Students can earn up to $150 at Parrott, up to $50 at West Hernando. The money comes from discretionary funds at the schools -- earned by selling rights to soft drink companies or from fundraisers.

    "When I was a principal we used to give kids gift certificates to McDonalds or pizza parties for good work, but not cash," Brogan said.

    Hernando School Board Chairman Jim Malcolm considers the governor's accountability plan flawed. But if we're stuck with it, Malcolm said, kids should benefit too.

    "To me, the next logical step would be the youngsters that have had to perform. If bonuses are to be forthcoming, then I'd certainly want to reward the students."

    Hernando Superintendent John Sanders said monetary incentives make sense in middle schools because students there have little motivation to take the exams seriously. Tenth-graders must pass the FCAT to graduate. Fourth-graders who have struggled in class must pass the FCAT or be retained. But there's no such consequence for eighth-graders.

    Across the state, educators have given out compact discs and bicycles, and hosted pizza parties to reward students for showing up on test day, and for doing well on the FCAT. But state officials had not heard of cash rewards before now.

    "Obviously we disagree with the governor, and respectfully so," Sanders said. "If it's working in the middle school we will probably continue to use it. At the moment we feel this is appropriate."

    Recent coverage

    Students get paid for FCAT success (May 16, 2001)

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