Senate school pay plan similar to 1990 law

other_state_govBy Bobby Harrison

Daily Journal Jackson Bureau

JACKSON – Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves says the third year component of his teacher pay raise package would be “the first true merit pay program in the state’s history.”

Reeves’ School Recognition Program could be the first merit pay program funded, but it is remarkably similar to a plan passed by the 1990 Mississippi Legislature that was never funded.

The Lighthouse School Program was part of then-Gov. Ray Mabus’ comprehensive education package known as B.E.S.T. – Better Education for Success Tomorrow. The program covered a wide spectrum of education issues, from dealing with at-risk students, to enacting tougher accountability standards, to preventing dropouts from attaining a driver’s license, to providing health insurance for teachers, to developing a program to help schools make capital repairs.

The program passed, but Mabus, now secretary of the Navy, and the Legislature could not agree on how to fund the program. Mabus proposed a state lottery.

Parts of the program, such as insurance for teachers, later were funded. The Lighthouse Program was never funded. Like Reeves’ School Recognition Program, the Lighthouse Program would have provided financial rewards for teachers in high-performing schools.

“Essentially, it is the same thing,” said Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, who served during Mabus’ tenure as his chief of staff and later as state fiscal officer.

Under the Lighthouse Program, in the top performing Level 5 schools, certificated staff, such as teachers and academic staff, would have received $800 each while noncertificated staff, such as teacher assistants and janitors, would have received $400. In Level 4 schools, the breakdown was $600 for certificated staff and $300 for noncertificated staff.

In the B.E.S.T. law, 70 percent of those funds would have gone to the staff as a salary supplement while the school staff would vote on how to expend the other 30 percent. The money could not go toward athletics.

In the School Recognition Program as passed the Senate last week, A-level schools and schools that move up a grade level would receive $100 per student. Schools with a B level would receive $75.

The plan is for schools to receive their accreditation level from the previous year early in the school year. A committee of teachers and staff will determine how to spend the money. If consensus is not reached by Nov. 1 on how to spend the funds, the money would be provided to the schools’ teachers on an equal basis.

“The School Recognition Program encourages teachers to pull together and help one another to improve academic performance at all grades and raise a school’s overall performance,” Reeves said.

Senate Education Chair Gray Tollison, R-Oxford, who worked with Reeves to develop the program, said it was modeled after the school-based performance pay program in Florida.

Tollison said he was not familiar with the Lighthouse Program.

“That is an interesting tidbit” he said, laughing.

If the Senate-passed program was in place now, Reeves said it would cost the state $24.6 million and the schools receiving the funds would have 60 percent of the state’s total public school enrollment. It would be impossible to determine what schools would be eligible for the program in 2016 when it is scheduled to be in effect if the proposal passes the full Legislature.

Brown said he likes the concept of pay for performance, but said there are problems with the School Recognition Program.

First, he said it will encourage teachers to try to get on the staffs of the top-performing schools. And, a teacher who was at the school the year it was a top performer might not be there the following year when the bonuses for the previous year are doled out.

Despite those problems, Brown, like many House Democrats, said they support the Tollison/Reeves Senate teacher pay plan proposal that includes the School Recognition Program. They say they support it because of the $2,500 pay bump it provides teachers in the next 16 months.

“We will have two years to work those issues out,” Brown said.

bobby.harrison@journalinc.com