Governor’s education reformers take aim at teacher pay scales

Georgia teachers have been paid for decades by a predictable salary scale, but that could change as a panel working for Gov. Nathan Deal considers an overhaul of education policy.

Teachers get automatic raises as they gain experience and earn advanced degrees, but Deal’s Education Reform Commission is talking about a new way to fund school districts that would ignore those factors.

The idea is to pay more for better student outcomes or for high-demand fields such as science or math.

Districts currently are reimbursed by the state based on where each of their teachers falls on the pay scale. Those districts with longer-serving and more highly-credentialed teachers get more money. The proposal would give every district the same amount for each teacher.

So some districts would get less, which could encourage them to abandon the pay scale.

Erin Hames said the state funding law could be rewritten so that current teachers’ pay is unaffected, but she acknowledged Thursday that most districts will soon be able to ignore such a requirement.

That’s because all but two of the state’s 180 districts are either applying to become, or have already been approved as, “flexibility” districts. This gives them the power to ignore costly state mandates such as maximum class sizes, 180-day school calendars — or teacher pay scales.

The funding proposal is far from a done deal. The commission would have to recommend it to Deal, who would then find a champion in the General Assembly to pass it into law. Deal gave the commission, which continues to study the effects of the proposed changes, a December deadline to make final recommendations.

Craig Harper, spokesman for the Professional Association of Georgia Educators, one of the state’s teacher advocacy groups, said pay is a “big issue” for teachers, but it is unclear now how the proposal would affect each teacher. Some stand to make more money, but others possibly less. He said that creates uncertainty that can hinder recruitment and retention.

Deal needs a way to pay for his reforms without forcing an increase in the amount of state money that goes towards education, and eliminating the pay scale is one way to do that.

Charles Knapp, who is leading the commission, says it must figure out how to divide money the state has for education rather than recommending a formula that mandates an increase in spending.

Proponents of a pay scale overhaul say it could inject new life and enthusiasm into the teaching ranks, encouraging excellence. Others caution that Georgia’s teacher evaluation system may not accurately portray performance.

The evaluation system is built on student test results and teacher observations. However, there have been questions about the fairness of using test results to measure teacher performance because of factors beyond their control, such as student poverty.

“It sounds exciting,” said Dick Yarbrough, a retired business executive with teachers in his family, and a member of Deal’s commission. “The question is the quality of evaluations.”

By Ty Tagami
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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