Do Your Job, Get Less Money

Over at Bluff City Ed, there’s an article analyzing the new pay scale for teachers in Shelby County Schools. The scale is weighted toward TVAAS data and the evaluation rubric, which rates teachers on a scale of 1-5, 1 being significantly below expectations and 5 being significantly above. A teacher earning a 3 “meets expectations.” That means they are doing their job and doing it well.

Jon does a nice job of breaking down what it means to “meet expectations.” But, here’s the problem he’s highlighting:  Teachers who meet expectations in the new system would see a reduction in their annual step raise. That’s right: They do their job and meet the district’s performance expectations and yet earn LESS than they would with the current pay system.

Jon puts it this way:

But what the district outlines as meeting expectations exemplifies a hardworking and effective educator who is making real progress with their community, school and students. If a teacher is doing all these things, I believe that they should be in line for a yearly raise, not a cut. At its core, this new merit pay system devalues our teachers who fulfill their professional duties in every conceivable way.

I would add to this argument that to the extent that the new pay scale is based on a flawed TVAAS system which provides minimal differentiation among teachers, it is also flawed. Value-added data does not reveal much about the differences in teacher performance. As such, this data shouldn’t weigh heavily (or at all) in performance pay schemes.

Systems like Shelby County may be better served by a pay scale that starts teachers at a high salary and rewards them well over time. Increasing pay overall creates the type of economic incentives that both attract strong teachers and encourage school systems to develop talent and counsel out low performers.

Shelby County can certainly do more to attract and retain strong teaching talent. But the new pay scale is the wrong way to achieve that goal.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

Dear Jim

Tomorrow, Knox County’s Director of Schools, Jim McIntyre, will testify before the Senate HELP Committee as part of ESEA reauthorization hearings being held by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Ahead of his testimony, 9th District Knox County School Board member Amber Rountree sent McIntyre her thoughts on what he should say. This is her letter:

Dear Jim:
Thank you for the opportunity to give input on your upcoming testimony regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”).

As you stated in your email to the Board, you have been bestowed an honor to represent our students, our staff and the great state of Tennessee. I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.  I hope as you prepare your testimony you find courage to speak hard truths about the current state of our schools, including the following points:

More accountability≠better education. While we need a way to measure student progress, we must discontinue high-stakes testing that is not developmentally appropriate.  Punishing students, teachers and schools for results of these tests is simply unethical, especially while companies like Pearson profit from this punishment.

Restore local control.  Top down mandates from the federal government via NCLB have not led to a better outcome for students.  In fact, in our own district the achievement gap is widening.  Return the decision making to the hands of our state and local boards of education, along with controls to ensure punitive high-stakes testing does not continue.

Rethink the “Teacher Incentive Fund.”  Would you pay a firefighter based on the number of fires they successfully extinguished? Merit pay does not directly correlate to increased student performance.  A wiser choice would be to use the funding for smaller teacher-student ratios, which directly improve student outcomes.

Public dollars, public schools.  Vouchers and charters are a path to privatize public education.  When President Johnson signed ESEA into law, his intent was to help public schools succeed, not see those dollars funneled into private ventures which are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools.
I concur with President Johnson’s remark that “there is no higher ground than a schoolroom or a more hopeful place than a classroom.”  The brightness of hope for our students and teachers has dimmed under the oppressive mandates of NCLB.  You’ve been given a gift to help restore that hope; my wish is that you use it wisely.
Yours in education,
Amber Rountree,  District 9 Representative

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Haslam Really Wants to Raise Teacher Pay

But he probably won’t.

Not in 2015, anyway.

Just yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association called on Haslam to deliver on his teacher pay promise.

But Haslam says the state is out of money and can’t possibly be raising anyone’s pay.

Back in October, Haslam said paying teachers more, “might be a good idea.”

But again, the issue comes back to where to find the money.

Why isn’t there any money?

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote back in April:

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17′s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

The interesting thing is, overall revenue collection is UP in Tennessee for the first three months of FY2015.

Yes, collections for certain corporate taxes contiue to fall, but despite this, overall revenue keeps going up.

Here’s the breakdown based on reports from the Department of Revenue:

Month          Overall Increase               Sales Tax Increase

July                 2.4%                                          3.1%

August         3.7%                                            6.7%

Sept.            7.4%                                            5.3%

Oct.              5.7%                                           7.3%

 

So, net revenue is up before any tax loopholes that are allowing business tax revenue to escape are closed.

If that trend continues, it would seem difficult for Haslam to keep making the argument that there’s just no money available to invest in schools.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

 

TEA Calls on Haslam to Deliver on Teacher Pay Promise

The Tennessee Education Association is asking Governor Haslam and the General Assembly to give teachers a 6% raise in the next session of the General Assembly. The association says it is Haslam’s chance to deliver on his promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

The group suggests that revenue is available, as sales tax collections continue to improve. Additionally, the group notes that closing corporate tax loopholes could stop losses in Franchise and Excise tax collections and allow for investment in teacher salaries.

From a press release:

The Tennessee Education Association today called on Governor Bill Haslam to fulfill his October 2013 promise to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.” The call comes just days before Haslam conducts his first budget hearing for the Department of Education.

“Governor Haslam has said he intends to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay,” said TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder. “Teachers are eagerly anticipating his budget hearing on Friday to see if he will start living up to that promise.”

State teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011, Haslam’s first year in office, when compared with the Consumer Price Index.

“When you factor in rising insurance premiums, some Tennessee teachers’ salaries are worth less now than they were when Haslam took office,” Crowder continued. “We are hopeful that the governor will rectify this situation and include a desperately needed raise in his proposed budget.”

TEA is asking Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to ultimately increase the state’s BEP funding for teacher salaries from $40,000 to $45,000 per BEP-generated teacher. Based on 2014 salary numbers, that would be a net increase to the average teacher’s salary of 11.3 percent.

“We’re not asking for this to happen all at once, but we are asking for the governor to get serious about investing in our teachers. The povertization of the teaching profession in Tennessee must stop,” Crowder said.

TEA’s proposal would mean a 6 percent increase in pay this year, with the remainder of the increase to be phased in over two to three years.

Crowder notes that many teachers didn’t get a raise this year or last, while inflation and classroom supplies coming out of teachers’ pockets have hit family budgets hard.

“Six percent is fair and critical, helping us break even with inflation because of stagnation at the state level and gets us on the road to becoming the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.”

By building the pay increase into the BEP formula, local school systems would receive additional financial support from the state.

“This proposal represents an investment in our state’s teachers and their students, but it also represents an investment in communities across Tennessee struggling to meet their budgets. We’re simply asking Governor Haslam to honor his promises and make investing in public schools a priority.”

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Why is TN 40th?

Recently, I wrote about Tennessee’s history of not investing in its teachers. Specifically, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in overall teacher pay and 40th in growth in teacher pay over time. So, Tennessee teachers are paid low salaries and those salaries don’t improve much as teachers advance in their careers.

Now, I’d like to take a look at why Tennessee teacher pay is low and is not improving.

The simple answer is this: The BEP is broken.

The BEP is the Basic Education Plan which is the state funding formula for public schools. The formula includes a number of components, including funding for teaching and staff positions based on district size as well as allocations for teacher salaries and insurance. It is the mechanism by which the state fulfills its constitutional responsibility to provide a free public education to all Tennessee students.

The BEP is not the sole funding source for public schools. Instead, the BEP generates dollars that are sent to local districts and each district is also asked to pay a share of the cost of providing education to the students there. The formula includes a mechanism which identifies a district’s “ability to pay” and districts receive a percentage of the total anticipated education funding needs based on that ability. Small, rural counties typically receive a much larger percentage of their total education budget from state BEP dollars than do large, urban districts or wealthy suburban districts.

The idea behind the formula is to introduce an element of equity to Tennessee schools. That is, no matter where a child lives, he or she should have access to a high quality education. Sure, wealthier districts will likely always spend more to enhance the basic program, but at a fundamental level, a child in Hancock County should be able to access the same basic educational opportunities as a child in Williamson County.

One key indicator of equity historically has been disparity in teacher pay across districts. Yes, a teacher in Shelby County has a higher cost of living than one in Perry County. But, fundamentally, the gap between salaries should not be such as to deprive rural districts of the opportunity to compete for teaching talent.

Back in 2002, the small school systems that originally banded together to sue the state to create the BEP sued the state again. This time, arguing that because of the widening disparity in teacher pay, education funding in the state was no longer equitable. At that time, the highest-paying districts in the state were paying salaries nearly 46% higher than the lowest-paying districts (based on numbers from the TN Department of Education). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the small schools and ordered the state to move toward funding fairness. As a result, the state made teacher salary a formal component of the BEP and funded it at a fixed percentage.

In the years following this adjustment, the pay disparity among districts dropped from 46% to 35%. The parties to the equity lawsuit agreed this was progress and from 2004-2009, the disparity hovered in the 35-36% range.

Following the economic recession of 2008-2009, however, investment in the instructional component of the BEP stagnated. This enabled wealthier districts to continue investing in their teachers while poorer districts could not keep up.

In 2014, the salary disparity among districts is just under 42%. Yes, that’s not far from the 46% ruled unconstitutional back in the 2002 case. And, the trend is heading in the wrong direction for equity, having worsened some 7 percentage points since 2008.

Why does this keep happening? The BEP is broken.

As I mentioned, the BEP includes an instructional component which provides districts funding for teacher salaries. The current instructional component sets a salary number of $40,447. The state then funds this component at 70%, leaving districts to pay 30% of the salary cost for that teacher.

There are a few problems with this. First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. This add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP.

Next, the state sets the instructional component for teacher salary at $40,447. The average salary actually paid to Tennessee teachers is $50,355.  That’s slightly below the Southeastern average and lower than six of the eight states bordering Tennessee. In short, an average salary any lower would not even approach competitiveness with our neighbors.

But, this gets to the reason why salary disparity is growing among districts. The state funds 70% of the BEP instructional component. That means the state sends districts $28,333.90 per BEP-generated teacher. But districts pay an average of $50,355 per teacher they employ. That’s a $22,000 disparity. In other words, instead of paying 70% of a district’s basic instructional costs, the state is paying 56%.

There’s an easy fix to this and it has been contemplated by at least one large school system in the state. That fix? Moving the BEP instructional component to the state average. Doing so would cost just over $500 million. So, it’s actually NOT that easy. Another goal of those seeking greater equity is moving the BEP instructional match from 70% to 75%, essentially fulfilling the promise of BEP 2.0. Doing so would cost at least $150 million.

Oh, and there’s one other problem with the BEP as it currently functions that impacts equity. The BEP insurance component. The BEP provides funds (45%) for teacher insurance. But, the BEP only funds teacher insurance for 10 months. Teachers receive insurance for 12 months. This creates a gap that MUST be filled by local districts. Wealthier districts are better able to absorb this cost while continuing to offer competitive pay. Poorer districts often keep salaries low in order to make up the money needed to cover the state-mandated insurance match.

Taking the state’s insurance match from the BEP from 10 months to 12 months would cost $64 million. It would also free up funds that could be used to close the salary gap among districts while easing the burden on local taxpayers. While addressing the salary issue will take creativity and some patience, the insurance issue is one that can be fixed with the exertion of some reasonable effort. That is, someone willing to find a way to allocate $64 million to the BEP in a state budget that is over $30 billion. It may mean less money in reserves. It may mean making different choices in terms of budget priorities.

The BEP is broken. It can be fixed. Doing so will require a commitment to investing in teachers and schools. It will require an adjustment in the state’s priorities. But, the broken BEP can be fixed.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Shelby County Schools Seek More State Funding

The Commercial Appeal reports that the Shelby County School Board has passed a resolution asking the state to properly fund public schools through the state’s BEP funding formula.

The board is asking the state to pay $10,000 more toward teacher salaries and fund 12 months of insurance premiums for district staff, instead of 10. The requests are also the top recommendations from the state Basic Education review committee from last year.

If the two requests were funded, SCS would receive $99.5 million in state funding, enough to give teachers the biggest raise they’ve had in years, while also offsetting the cost of monthly insurance premiums. The cost for the year now is spread over 10 months.

For more than two decades, the state has paid health insurance on a 10-month basis. Last year, the cost to cover 12 months was estimated at $60.4 million. This year’s estimate is $64 million.

In 2007, the state attempted to address the BEP funding shortfall by passing BEP 2.0, but that program has never been fully-funded.

Tennessee consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the country in terms of per pupil spending. Additionally, Tennessee’s teacher salaries consistently grow at a pace below the national average.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

TEA on TFA

Over at the TEA website, there’s a story on a recent TFA Truth Tour event at Vanderbilt. From the report:

A Teach for America graduate and former charter school teacher criticized the program at a Vanderbilt event Tuesday night, stating he believes the program’s goals are contradicted by its practices.

Chad Sommer says low wages, lack of support for teachers and poor working conditions at public schools across America have exacerbated high turnover and created a barrier to student achievement and quality instruction, which are among TFA’s stated goals.

Sommer spoke during the Teach for America Truth Tour at Vanderbilt University in Nashville this week.

Sommer also noted that he believes TFA is too closely aligned with the charter school movement and too supportive of high-stakes standardized testing.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Haslam: Paying Teachers More “Might Be a Good Idea”

Roughly a year after Governor Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in teacher pay, he now seems uncertain about the idea. In a recent story in the Tennessean about a conflict between legislative Democrats and Haslam on Pre-K expansion, Haslam said:

“The key is like everything else: ‘Should we do Pre-k?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ ‘Should we pay teachers more?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ I could keep going with that list. It’s more a question of, given the reality of a limited budget that we have and are always going to have, should that be a priority for funding?”

This certainly doesn’t sound like a leader who is planning to move forward on improving teacher pay anytime soon. This in spite of early indicators that doing so may well be fiscally viable.

 

For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport