The Senate’s version of the budget bill includes a well-deserved 2 percent raise for all school teachers. But 2 percent isn’t enough to reward effective teachers whose students have made significant academic progress. The present system system needs reform to provide for merit pay hikes.
There should be little dissent about the need for this salary boost at a time when the cost of groceries, gas and utilities has increased. Their last cost-of-living increase was four years ago, because of state budget constraints.
Still, to return to the old way of determining pay raises by length of service would be a mistake. It deprives teachers of the opportunity to be rewarded for exceptional work — and for schools to identify teachers whose work is not adequate.
It is encouraging that the Senate has recognized that teacher pay is in need of reform. Its budget would establish a committee to study teacher pay, including paying them based in part on their students’ achievement.
The proviso instructs the committee to report its findings by Dec. 1.
So while it is understandable that some senators want to unfreeze the state’s salary schedule and further increase teacher pay based on longevity, it makes more sense to hear from the committee first.
Indeed, Scott Price, general counsel for the S.C. School Boards Association, agrees.
To be fair to teachers and students, the committee and the Legislature should move forward with dispatch. Each year the decision is delayed is a year teachers miss out on an opportunity to earn more money and students miss out on the advantages a new system would provide.
The Charleston County School District has studied the concept of pay being determined by student outcomes, but also by teacher professionalism, their performance as judged by observers and their schools’ success.
And about 60 schools in the state already give merit-based raises, paid for mostly through a federal grant.
Still, the issue is a ticklish one. Nationally teachers are leary about merit pay. They point to huge gaps between high-income and low-income students, differences in children’s ability, subjects like art that are difficult to quantify, and the gains that students make in behavior and other hard-to-measure areas.
The approach some states use, however, is not to reward teachers who have the most students scoring at the top of the charts. It is to reward teachers whose students have made a year’s progress, or more, in the course of the year. Teachers whose students begin the year at a disadvantage aren’t penalized.
The Senate’s plan to study teacher pay in general is a worthy one. It’s time those teachers who excel have the opportunity to be rewarded for it, and for students to benefit from their extra effort.