Tennessee governor’s proposal to eliminate state-mandated teacher pay schedule draws criticism from teachers’ union
Gov. Bill Haslam has proposed that Tennessee scrap its current state-mandated teacher salary scale, based on seniority and training, reports the Tennessean. He recommends replacing the scale with a system that rewards teachers based on student performance, degree of difficulty filling the teaching position, and other factors. According to Haslam, his plan would allow school districts to create their own pay plans that address their own needs, plus reward high performers.
Some extra money to fund raises or bonuses would come from removing the mandate on schoolwide average class sizes. Tennessee Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman said too many state mandates suppress district-level innovation. “We don’t think that every single person in our education system should be treated the same,” he said.
However, Tennessee Education Association President Gera Summerford echoed what the nation’s teachers’ unions long have said about pay-for-performance plans: they don’t encourage necessary collaboration. “There tends to be this movement toward competition between teachers, schools and school systems, and I just don’t see that as a way to encourage success,” she said.
The current pay structure requires the Tennessee Board of Education to set a flat, minimum dollar amount for teacher salaries each year. The step scale builds on pay based on experience and educational attainment, with the state paying, on average, 75 percent of a teacher’s salary. At least 20 of the state’s 136 school districts already have state approval to try their own pay scales, using local money or federal grants.
Florida rolled out a mandatory bonus policy for teachers in 2006 based on student test scores. Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a law tying teacher salaries to evaluations, which will be mandatory beginning in 2014. The bonus plan didn’t go into effect statewide because the Legislature didn’t fund it, said Florida Education Association spokesman Mark Pudlow.
In the counties that implemented the plan with their own money, teachers who taught the wealthiest students generally won the bonuses, he said, because they posted the best test scores. “Out of 180,000 teachers, I am sure there were those who supported it,” he said. “But the response from teachers was overwhelmingly negative.”
The pay plan legislation is linked to Tennessee’s class size limits. Under the current system, districts must hire extra teachers to keep student ratios smaller. The new plan would allow districts to pay teachers more for larger classes. The caps are 25 students for grades kindergarten-three, 30 for grades four-six and 35 for seven-12, levels Haslam’s plan would keep in place. Required schoolwide averages run five students lower than the maximums and would be eliminated under the plan.
Source: Tennessean, 1/11/12, By Julie Hubbard
[Editor's Note: In September 2011, Legal Clips summarized an Associated Press article in the Miami Herald reporting that the Florida Education Association (FEA) had filed suit in state court, challenging a new state law that requires merit pay and ends tenure for new hires. FEA's suit contends that the law, known as SB 736, is unconstitutional because it substantially changes how teachers are paid and evaluated while denying them their right to collective bargaining. FEA, along with the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association, filed the lawsuit September 14, 2011 in Tallahassee Circuit Court on behalf of teachers statewide.]