Texas officials consider tying teacher raises to performance

(Texas) With a statewide strike among Oklahoma teachers looming, lawmakers in Texas signaled this week that increasing teacher pay–possibly by tying raises to performance–will be a priority during the next Legislative session.

Members of the State Senate Education Committee examined current local and state compensation strategies for classroom teachers, noting that recruitment and retention of high quality educators hinges at least in part on the pay teachers receive.

“We’ve got to have better teachers in the classroom, and we’ve got to find ways to do that–and one of the ways to do that is to pay them appropriately,” said Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood and chair of the committee. “People know who’s getting kids fired up about what they’re learning and who is inspiring kids. It’s not just a test and measuring what the kids know–there’s more to it and you have to take into account the whole picture, which is something that will need to happen at the local level.”

Following a 13-day statewide strike among West Virginia teachers last month which culminated in an across-the-board 5 percent raise, teachers in Arizona have conducted a series demonstrations demanding higher pay, while Kentucky teachers have rallied to protest proposed cuts to their pensions. In Oklahoma, meanwhile, teachers who have not received a raise from the state in a decade have declared they will go on strike on April 2 if the Legislature does not act to increase their pay as well as overall education budgets.

Currently, beginning teachers in Texas earn $28,080 annually, and those with one year of experience earn about $600 more. By the time an educator reaches 20 years in the classroom, their earnings reach $45,510 each year.

Last year, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick proposed using money from the Texas lottery to provide bonuses of up to $1,000 for long-term and retired teachers, give $150 million to struggling small, rural districts, and to provide $60 million for new facilities for fast-growing school districts and charter schools. He also called on school districts to reprioritize 5 percent of their funds over the next four years to increase teacher salaries.

But lawmakers on the Senate education committee expressed enthusiasm Monday when discussing raises tied to teacher performance, opposed to the number of years spent in the classroom.

For instance, Richardson Independent School District superintendent Jeannie Stone described to lawmakers a program within her own district through which some of the highest performing teachers receive higher pay and are incentivized to teach in the district’s neediest schools where students are less likely to have access to high quality teachers.

Taylor noted that while it would be challenging to allocate the money that would be needed to help all districts pull off implementing such a program and sustaining it, that doing so would likely benefit schools and save the state money.

“What we’d like to do with school finance is promote funding these types of programs that we know are working versus just throwing out more money and hoping it all works out,” Taylor said. “If we’ve got a program like this that improves the teacher quality, improves retention and those types of things, that’s where you need to be spending the money. This is where we need to focus resources from the state.”

Sen. Bob Hall, R-Edgewood, noted that while a program like the one introduced in Richardson may work for larger, urban school districts, it would put small, rural districts at even more of a disadvantage in staffing classrooms with high quality teachers.

Because high performing educators in those small districts have fewer schools to move around to if they want to receive additional pay to work in lower performing schools as required under such programs, those teachers would be more likely to choose to work in a district that can offer that sort of advantage–something Hall said would simply draw even more quality teachers away from rural schools.

“As we move forward in trying to come up with innovative ways to make these improvements is to recognize that one-size-fits-all solutions aren’t going to be found here,” Hall said. I want to make sure we don’t go down a path where it looks really good in one area at the expense of a big portion of our state–because we have a large part of our state that is rural.”

The state would have to examine ways to compensate high quality teachers in rural areas where there may not be a low performing school to move to, Hall said, otherwise  smaller districts will likely suffer from a lack of quality teachers.