Education funding is often a contentious topic, and so it is for the governor’s Education Reform Commission as a key subcommittee reconvenes this week for its July 16 meeting. Commission members disagree whether a new formula for funding public schools should be based on an assessment of cost, as I described in an earlier blog. How to pay teachers emerged as another area of disagreement at the June 11 meeting of the commission’s funding committee. Districts could create customized approaches to paying teachers under a new teacher compensation framework the commission is considering. This is a big change from today’s statewide approach to paying Georgia’s 108,000 public school teachers and those who will follow them in the future. It warrants careful consideration.
How Teachers Are Paid Now
Under the existing compensation model, the state sets a minimum base salary of $33,424 for new teachers with a bachelor’s degree. This is supplemented for each teacher based on training and experience. Training refers to graduate degrees teachers earn and experience counts years teaching. The state funds the base salary as well as the training and experience supplement.
The Training and Experience Debate
Commission members are considering a model for funding public schools called student-based budgeting. This approach sets a base amount that each student receives with additional dollars going to students with extra needs. District officials get flexibility to use the state money as they determine is best for their students. The commission’s funding committee is considering whether money for training and experience should be included in the base amount.
Charles Knapp, the commission’s chair, proposed including these dollars in the base student amount, leaving school districts to create their own teacher compensation systems. This maximizes the amount of money districts can use flexibly, according to Knapp. It also allows districts to pay teachers based on their effectiveness, he says, a shift supported by the governor’s staff.
Several members of the committee did not support this approach. State Rep. Terry England, R-Auburn, said using training and experience dollars in the base student amount could hurt districts with many long-tenured teachers who earn higher pay and reward districts with less experienced teachers and lower salaries. He noted changing the way teachers are paid could be disruptive for them, their families and their communities. That could be felt the most in rural communities where school districts are often the largest employer.
England proposes continuing to calculate training and experience funds and excluding them from the base amount. Districts would create performance pay systems for new teachers and current teachers who choose to participate. Current teachers who choose not to participate could be paid under the existing system.
As Rep. Tom Dickson, R-Cohutta, explained, England’s proposal phases out the use of training and experience to calculate teacher pay, but continues its use to determine the total amount the state provides to districts for teachers’ salaries. England and Dickson both say they are open to allowing districts to use training and experience money to cover other direct instructional costs.
Continuing to calculate funds for training and experience ensures districts receive an annual increase to provide competitive wages to teachers or cover other instructional costs to offset inflation. The current formula does not adjust for inflation nor has the commission focused on adding that to any new formula.
A majority of the committee took a non-binding vote to support leaving training and experience funds out of the base amount computations.
Research Findings on Training and Experience
Research does not link earning advanced degrees with increased teachers’ effectiveness as measured by students’ test scores, except in math and science. However, it is also not clear how paying for advanced degrees influences other factors related to the quality of the teacher workforce. For example, how important an incentive is it for recruiting and retaining teachers if they have a known pathway to a higher salary through completion of a master’s degree?
Research shows that teachers’ effectiveness is connected to experience. The greatest gains from experience come in the first few years of teaching, but they continue in the years beyond. New research also indicates that how much teachers improve with experience is connected to the schools where they’re employed. Teachers in schools where they collaborate with colleagues, receive feedback on instructional practices and get guidance on instruction from principals improve more than teachers who work in less collaborative environments.
The research findings indicate eliminating training and experience from teachers’ salaries may come with yet-to-be-examined consequences and could hurt the quality of the teacher workforce. Before cutting those benchmarks, a much more comprehensive examination should be undertaken and public discussion held.
The next meeting of the funding subcommittee committee is scheduled for 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., July 16, 2015, room 450 of the State Capitol.