explainer

Hopson wants to raise teacher salaries, but who will get them is still under debate

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
A teacher instructs students at Ford Road Elementary School in Memphis.

Memphis teachers are slated to get a 3 percent pay raise next school year, but the details of their rollout remain under discussion.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson has set aside $10.5 million for raises in his spending plan for 2017-18. If approved, the pay hike would be the second in as many years, but likely wouldn’t be delivered across-the-board this time.

Among the issues are whether to provide merit-based raises for top-rated teachers as Hopson wants — and how to address inequities within the district’s compensation structure.

The questions are important as Tennessee’s largest district seeks to stem the tide of teachers leaving Shelby County Schools for higher pay at one of six nearby municipal districts. Leveling the playing field also would help pave the way to garner teacher union support for merit-based pay in the future.

Here are some of the questions being raised:

Who would get the raise under Hopson’s plan?

Hopson wants to give merit raises for top-rated teachers. That would boost salaries for about 90 percent of the district’s 6,800 teachers.

The increase would not apply to non-instructional staff such as central office employees, secretaries or teacher assistants, but the district did not rule out other incentives.

Interim director of nutrition services Frank Cook weighed in on social media.

How does merit-based pay work?

Hopson’s plan would reward teachers who rank at or above a 3 out of 5 on the state’s teacher evaluation model, which relies mostly on classroom observations and student test scores.

Research on the effectiveness of merit-based pay is mixed. A 2010 report from Vanderbilt University’s Peabody College of Education concluded that rewarding teachers with bonus pay, in the absence of any other support programs, does not raise student test scores. However, a 2012 Harvard University study in Chicago found the opposite.

Hopson pushed for merit pay last year, but later expanded the raise to all teachers and some non-instructional employees when his administration wasn’t able to get timely teacher evaluation data due to the state’s TNReady testing debacle.

What do teachers unions say about this year’s proposal?

The two unions representing Memphis teachers want the raise to apply across the board.

PHOTO: Laura Faith Kebede
Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County

“We’re very glad the superintendent has included money for teachers in the budget. That has a huge impact on morale. However, we are still disappointed,” said Tikeila Rucker, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County.

The unions question the accuracy of the state’s teacher evaluation system.

“It’s subjective …,” Rucker said. “We’ve known for a long time the rubric they’re using is not working.”

Hopson has acknowledged the system does not include pedagogy or teacher knowledge of new standards. But he says it’s still the best basis for rewarding the most effective teachers.

“We certainly know there are some challenges with the evaluation system,” Hopson told the school board on Monday. “But I do think at the end of the day, the overwhelming majority of our teachers — about 80 percent — are 4, and 5 on the system, how ever flawed it may be.”

What about salary inequities?

In initial meetings with teachers unions, district administrators said they would address those inequities before moving to performance-based pay, according to Keith Williams, executive director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association.

And Hopson acknowledges there’s a problem.

“We know that our compensation system has some inherent unfairnesses or inequities in it because steps weren’t offered for several years,” he said.

“Steps” are incremental pay raises based on years of experience. Shelby County Schools stopped giving them to teachers following the 2013 merger of city and county schools. But the change made it possible for a teacher who’s new to the district to get paid more than an existing teacher with the same experience.

Both Hopson and union leaders say that happens often.

“Most people are behind,” Rucker said. “We need a level playing field; otherwise it’s not going to be fair.”

The inequities also open the door for teachers to leave the urban Memphis district to work for six school systems created in the suburbs in 2014.

“You can go somewhere else and immediately make a higher salary,” Hopson acknowledged.

Germantown Municipal School District, for instance, has the highest weighted average salary in the state.

Doesn’t the district have to increase teacher salaries as part of raises proposed for educators statewide by Gov. Bill Haslam?

Haslam has asked the state legislature to approve an extra $100 million for teacher salaries, which would equate to a 4 percent increase. But districts would only be required to raise salaries if their pay is below the state average, and Shelby County Schools already pays teachers more on average than any other district in the state.

Hopson said he is proposing salary hikes anyway because “we think it’s the right thing to do.”

When will we know more?

A statement on Wednesday said the district is “still collecting feedback from teachers and school leaders on all aspects of our proposed compensation system for teachers and will be communicating further details soon.”

The school board will meet 4:30 p.m. Monday, March 20, to discuss the budget. The next day is the board’s regularly scheduled work session at 5:30 p.m. Directly preceding the work session is another committee meeting at 4, all at the district offices, 160 S. Hollywood St.

Compromise

Indiana budget deal would offer modest school funding increases plus a big fix for teacher bonuses

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Many schools across Indiana could expect more money per student in the coming years and strong teachers at struggling schools would be likely to receive higher bonuses under a budget deal announced Friday.

House and Senate lawmakers have come to an agreement on how much money to send to Indiana schools over the next two years. The budget would increase total dollars for schools by about 3.3 percent from 2017 to 2019. Included within that: a 2.5 percent average increase for per-student funding to $6,709 in 2019, up from $6,540 this year. The budget is expected to go up for a final vote late Friday.

Overall, the budget plan would accomplish some of the key goals prioritized by Gov. Eric Holcomb, state Superintendent Jennifer McCormick and House Republicans. Those goals include increasing funding for the state’s preschool program, internet access for schools, and Advanced Placement exams that help students earn college credit while in high school.

Under the compromise, every district in Marion County would see its basic state aid and per-student funding increase, including Indianapolis Public Schools. (IPS would have seen cuts in the House plan, and the increases wound have been higher under the Senate plan.)

Suburban districts such as Carmel and Hamilton Southeastern would get sizable funding bumps as with the Senate plan. Districts losing enrollment, including East Chicago, could lose state money. But overall, many of the districts with some of the state’s poorest students stand to see increases. The Gary and Hammond districts, for example, would both see gains in per-student funding and overall.

Lawmakers also settled on a compromise about how to pay teachers.

Throughout the session, they waffled about whether to pay teachers more for their performance or for taking on additional work in their schools.

At first, the House cut the bonuses entirely and set aside $3 million for a “career pathways” program that would reward teachers who take on leadership roles in their schools. That was far less money than the $40 million the Senate wanted to put toward teacher bonuses, but some teachers said they would rather have the long-term opportunity to improve their teaching and leadership skills rather than a short-term bonus that might not go toward their salaries in the future.

“I want a leadership role, but I want to be a teacher — I don’t want to be an administrator,” said Allison Larty, a teacher in Noblesville and Teach Plus policy fellow. “(A bonus) is not going to be make an impact. The creation of career pathways will make an impact in the long run.”

But those dollars were eliminated in the Senate budget and the budget compromise. Rep. Tim Brown, chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, said it came down to Senate negotiations. Senators were willing to spend more on preschool, Brown said, if they didn’t have to spend elsewhere — so career pathways dollars were cut.

But lawmakers did agree to change the state’s now $30 million teacher bonus program, which came under fire from educators across the state last year for rewarding effective teachers in high-performing, usually affluent schools at a higher level than similar teachers in lower-performing schools.

Going forward, the program will dole out money based on a policy created by each school district, rather than ISTEP scores. Under the plan, the state would distribute $30 per student to each district, which would then divvy up the local bonus pool among teachers rated “effective” or “highly effective.” Of that money, up to 50 percent can be added into a teacher’s base salary so that the teacher receives it in future years as well. And teachers in virtual schools can receive these bonuses — something the Senate had moved against.

The compromise plan keeps other requirements suggested by the Senate for virtual schools, mandating that they report information about class size, teacher-per-student ratios, and how often teachers have in-person meetings to the education department each year. Virtual schools would get 90 percent of the basic per-student funding amount from the state, as they do now. (The House’s plan would have increased that to 100 percent.)

The state’s voucher program would see its funding grow over the next two years under the compromise plan. Indiana is projected to spend more than $156 million by 2018 and $167 million by 2019 on the program, up from $146 million in 2017.

This new agreement no longer carves out the voucher money as a budget line item. Critics of making it a line item said it made the program vulnerable to cuts, but supporters applauded the change because they said it increased transparency around how much the state spends on vouchers but pulling it out of school-by-school calculations and placing it squarely in the budget itself.

The budget also includes:

  • $22 million per year for the state’s preschool program, up from about $12 million. $1 million per year is set aside for “in-home” online preschool programs.
  • About $32 million for English-language learners, up from about $20 million. The grant would be $250 per English-learner student in 2018 and $300 per student in 2019. Schools with higher concentrations of English learners would get additional funding.
  • $3 million per year to improve school internet access.
  • $5 million over two years in incentive grants for schools and districts that consolidate services.
  • $10.4 million for Advanced Placement tests and $4.1 million for PSAT tests.
  • $1 million to align initiatives in science, technology, engineering and math.
  • $500,000 per year for dual language immersion programs.
  • $26.3 million per year for testing and $12.3 million per year for remediation testing.
  • $15 million per year for the Charter and Innovation Network School Grant Program, which would support schools that want to become “innovation schools.”

Chalkbeat reporter Dylan Peers McCoy contributed to this story.

 

life support

Partisan bickering puts financial lifeline for rural schools in danger

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Students at Merino Elementary School work during class.

A bill that would send hundreds of millions of dollars to Colorado’s rural schools faces an uncertain future after party leaders in both legislative chambers Thursday accused each other of not negotiating in good faith.

The multifaceted bill is one of the most complicated of the session. It would send money to rural hospitals, roads and schools. But if lawmakers fail to resolve their differences, hospitals would face severe cuts — forcing some in rural areas to close altogether.

What makes Senate Bill 267 so controversial is that the cornerstone of the bill would redesignate a fee collected by the state that helps pay for Medicaid.

The money the state collects from hospital patients is funneled to the state’s general operating budget. The state’s constitution limits how much that pot of money can grow each year. The bill would redirect the hospital fee to an enterprise account that isn’t subject to that constitutional provision.

Democrats have wanted to redesignate the hospital fee since 2015. They believe reclassifying the fee would elevate some budgetary pressures that have forced schools and other state services to be underfunded. Republicans have staunchly opposed the change. They’ve said it would violate the constitution and the will of voters.

State Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg, a Sterling Republican, changed his mind this year after seeing the potential cuts to rural hospitals. He introduced the bill with state Sen. Lucia Guzman, a Denver Democrat, and state Reps. K.C. Becker, a Boulder Democrat, and Jon Becker, a Fort Morgan Republican.

The bill was always a long shot. There are plenty of provisions neither chamber liked. And it would potentially take a coalition of both parties to pass the bill

But a disagreement over whether the state should lower its spending gap in tandem with redesignating the fee has thrown negotiations into further peril.

Early Thursday, Sonnenberg told reporters he was done negotiating with Democrats. He signaled he would kill the bill that was scheduled for a second hearing later in the morning. While he backed away from his threat, he took shots at Democrats.

“We didn’t kill it,” he told Chalkbeat after sparing the bill. “I’m not ready to give up. But I’m close.”

Sonnenberg said he believes he’s given Democrats more than he should, increasing the amount he’d cap government spending at. But that hasn’t been enough for them, he said.
“I want to save hospitals,” he said. “They want more tax dollars.”

Democrats said they’re concerned the bill as written would trigger another round of budget cuts to all government services, including schools

“It puts our budget in problem territory in no time at all,” said Becker, the Boulder Democrat.

“The numbers just don’t add up,” said Speaker Crisanta Duran, a Denver Democrat.

House Democrats said they’re hoping to restart negotiations soon and will offer “creative solutions.”

Senate Bill 267 is scheduled for another hearing Tuesday.

“We are still holding out hope for rural schools,” said Michelle Murphy, executive director of the Rural Alliance, which represents the state’s rural schools. “We’re grateful to Sen. Sonnenberg and the bill’s other sponsors for their leadership and efforts to bring critical resources to rural communities.”