Fatal Merit Pay Flaw – Funding

Paying our teachers $100,000 plus a year is a noble idea. After spending a tour of duty in school district tech support, I firmly believe government school teachers are underpaid. Reforms tout the merit pay method as the savior of our schools. Michelle Rhee is a known fan of merit pay and has proposed the idea in D.C. NYC Mayor Mike Bloomberg too.

Can states really afford to reward their teachers at this level?

I questioned whether merit pay would be feasible budget-wise a few days ago.

from The Maine View:

Then there is the cost. The idea of a $100,000 plus a year teacher. As long as schools still run on tax dollars I don’t see that big a pay rate feasible. Something else would have to be cut. Sports, music, other teachers perhaps. I wouldn’t mind cutting the fat and more efficient spending in schools. In fact it should be a priority. None the less I don’t see many states being to afford such increases.

In Texas they have dropped one of two incentive programs

from Dallas News:

The TEEG plan began as a pilot program ordered by Gov. Rick Perry in the 2005-06 school year. It was expanded to a statewide program a year later by the Legislature, which put up $100 million for teacher bonuses at 1,150 schools.

Proponents said targeting the money to the best teachers at schools with a large number of low-income students would motivate teachers to do better and improve test scores and achievement at those schools. Individual bonuses were based primarily on test score results.

But studies showed that although affected teachers liked the extra money, more than three-fourths said the bonuses had no effect on the way they taught or their performance in the classroom.

Here we have a program cut because it just plain failed. Poorly planned and poorly executed, TEEG was a waste of money. It seems as though there wasn’t much more thought in this plan beyond a straight injection of money. The plan was especially flawed when taking into account that TEEG drew much needed funds from the already questionable state wide DATE plan. Of course this is not the first fumble in Texas education policy.

The situation in California is dire. The state is in a financial disaster. California’s budget is short an estimated $24 billion. No matter what the Governator decides to do, it is a given that education will take a hard hit.

from LA Times:

The governor would take $3 billion from public schools if the ballot propositions pass and $5 billion if they fail — potentially forcing a seven-day reduction in the school year — on top of billions the state cut several months ago. California’s public colleges and universities would lose $1 billion if the measures pass and $1.2 billion if they fail.

Administration officials said the education cuts would be cushioned by incoming federal stimulus funds.

But a lobbyist for school districts, Kevin Gordon, questioned whether the U.S. government would allow the state to use federal money to replace its own.

Such cuts would violate “the spirit of what leaders in Washington, D.C., intended,” Gordon said. The federal money, he said, was not meant to enable the state to cut its own spending.

You can bet merit pay doesn’t look like such a good idea when your pockets are empty. When the private sector is cutting back, employ bonuses will almost certainly be cut. Now imagine those bonuses are being funded by public tax dollars. Stretch that vision even further if you will, and picture that you’re now starring at a budget billions of dollars in the red. Extra pay will take a hit.

Perhaps we should think of implementing merit pay like getting to the Moon. It took almost a decade to get everything right and still it was a long shot. How many rockets blew up on the launch pad before we could even get one in orbit? Creative dedicated minds at NASA finally got it right. It took innovative thinking from those scientists to solve their problems. Maybe we need to start channeling a little of their ingenuity into this merit pay conundrum.