The influx of an extra $1.4 billion into the states budget next year has prompted a debate over the best way to pay S.C. teachers.
The Senate version of the states $6.7 billion budget that takes effect July 1 includes $48 million to give all teachers a 2 percent raise next year. But it also would require most school districts to unfreeze the states salary schedule, which gives teachers raises based on how long they have been teaching.
Sen. Wes Hayes, R-York, said that move was designed to nudge school districts back into giving teachers regular pay raises based on their experience after several years of ignoring those experience raises because of state and local budget cuts.
But others say the state should look into paying teachers based on how well their students do in class, instead of how long they have been teaching.
The Senate budget proposal, which would allow some school districts to continue to ignore the experience raises if they can prove they cant afford them, would create a committee to study teacher pay that may include a pay-for-performance model.
The committee has to finish its report by Dec. 1
Some states have done it. It has worked out. I dont know why we dont try it here, said Sen. Larry Grooms, R-Berkeley. At least allow a couple of school districts flexibility to try it now. We should do that.
About 60 S.C. schools in 10 school districts already give merit-based raises through the Teacher Advancement Program an optional program paid for mostly through a federal grant.
State Superintendent of Education Mick Zais has argued teacher pay scales should provide incentives for those highly effective teachers who can demonstrate dramatic gains in student achievement, according to Jay Ragley, Zais spokesman.
Scott Price, general counsel for the S.C. School Boards Association, said it would be better to wait for the Senate study committee to finish its report before schools start giving teachers experience raises again.
There is a growing belief about the need to take a hard look at how we pay teachers in South Carolina, Price said. Should it be purely based on years of experience? Should it include some performance indicators? I dont know. ... That debate has come to a head this year in the budget debate.
Nationally, teachers have been wary of performance-based pay, saying it causes schools to teach the answers to standardized tests, and rewards teachers in high-income schools and penalizes those instructing low-income students.
One problem with performance-based pay for teachers comes in how to measure performance, said Libby Ortmann, president of the Palmetto State Teachers Association and a teacher at Alice Drive Middle School in Sumter.
We know that as classroom teachers, those test scores do not begin to show the growth that we see in children, she said. Until we can figure out how to measure their growth from where they started, using student achievement solely for (pay) in my opinion is not going to be a good thing.
Sen. Nikki Setzler, D-Lexington, downplayed the teacher salary debate, saying, There has been no serious look at it at this point. He noted the salary study committee is charged with looking at anything ... related to teacher salaries.
You always are looking for ways to improve the system, and I think that just falls in with one of a number of issues that will be looked at, he said.