Bryant urges merit pay for teachers

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant will ask the 2013 Legislature to scrap the current teacher compensation system, which is based on seniority and education level, and adopt a performance-based pay system.
“It’s time we started paying for teacher quality, not merely longevity,” said Bryant, who held a news conference Friday with state Board of Education Chairman Wayne Gann of Corinth and others to announce his plan.
The Republican Bryant stressed the plan would not be “rigid” and said it would provide local school districts the flexibility to craft a performance pay plan that fit their needs.
Under Mississippi’s current system, a teacher receives a pay bump for each year of service and an instructor with a master’s degree, for instance, makes more than a teacher with a bachelor’s degree.
A teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 10 years of experience earns $35,850 annually, not counting any local district supplement, while a teacher at the same education level with 11 years of service makes $495 more.
Bryant proposed using at least some of the funds that would normally go to fund increases in years of service and convert them to fund a performance pay system.
He stressed that under the plan no teacher should receive a reduction in pay and expressed hope that in upcoming years additional funds – instead of existing money – could be used to pay for a merit pay system.
The Research and Curriculum Unit at Mississippi State University developed the recommendation, funded in part by the Appalachian Regional Commission. ARC Director Mike Armour of Tupelo attended the news conference.
Julie Jordan, director of MSU’s Research and Curriculum Unit, said the performance-based compensation package should take into account factors outside the control of teachers but that “still substantially impact student achievement,” such as socioeconomic and family issues.
Gann said he had not read the recommendations yet, but looked forward to working with the governor on the issue.
He said merit pay has been around for many years, but developing a plan that is objective while dealing with all the variables teachers face has been difficult. “But every child in the state deserves an excellent teacher in the classroom,” he said.
Interim state Superintendent Lynn House did not attend the news conference, but in a statement said, “It is essential that we focus on student outcomes and providing incentives to those teachers who are achieving strong results for our students.”
Kevin Gilbert, president of the Mississippi Association of Educators, said he also had not read the plan, but said his group’s support would depend on several factors, including the criteria for a performance-based pay boost and which school employees would be included. He also said under existing law a merit pay plan can be put into effect if education is fully funded, which it has not been since 2007.
Mississippi has consistently been at or near the bottom in teacher pay.
Bryant said numerous states are developing performance-based pay systems that are encouraged under the federal Race to the Top education plan developed by the Obama administration.

A glance at 3 earlier Miss. merit pay plans

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi has made at least three previous efforts to pay teachers based on merit:

2006: The Legislature passed a bill, at then-Gov. Haley Barbour’s behest, to allow merit pay for teachers. Barbour’s intention was to pay $1,000 bonuses to teachers in schools that had the largest test score gains each year. But the law, still on the books, says merit pay can only kick in if the Mississippi Adequate Education Plan is fully funded. Mississippi has only met the full demands of the funding formula twice, most recently in 2007.

2010: The state pledged to implement a pay-for-performance system as part of its unsuccessful effort to win a federal Race to the Top grant.

Today: The Mississippi Department of Education is using $10 million in federal money to run a pilot program that pays bonuses to elementary school staff for meeting goals. Teachers and principals can earn from $1,200 to $3,800 more a year depending on how many goals a school, grade level and teacher meet. The state is trying out the plan through 2014 in a total of 10 schools in seven districts: Calhoun County, Columbus, George County, Jackson, Jones County, Simpson County and Wayne County.