Texas Teacher Merit Pay Plan On Its Way Out

Half of the 180,000 educators in Texas received bonuses two years ago as a reward for their students receiving high test scores, but the funding for teacher bonuses has been dramatically decreased from $320 million to $24 million.

Governor Rick Perry, the man responsible for pushing merit pay for teachers, has signed legislation that outlines the cuts. Slashing merit pay is meant to help address Texas’ budget deficit problem, but educators are worried about what the cuts indicate for the future of education in the state.

Terrence Stutz of Dallas Morning News writes that after being introduced with fanfare, the program is now disappearing quietly.

“Texas is going to take the national lead in rewarding educational excellence and attracting top-performing teachers to struggling campuses,” Perry promised in 2006.

The experiment was short-lived. And it will never be known whether the concept might have eventually showed results.

Texas teachers are sorry to see the bonus money gone, although many have long been skeptical of merit pay.

The last of the bonuses were given out during the fall to about 18,000 teachers. Qualification was determined by how well the students performed during the school year of 2012-13.

A spokeswoman for the Texas Education Agency says that the problem of merit pay isn’t because it’s a flawed program — the problem is that the merit pay was taking too much money from the budget that the education department had to work with.

“It was such a large pot of money that it became an easy target when the Legislature had to cut billions of dollars out of the budget,” she said. “It never really had a chance to work.”

The merit pay cut has strained teachers, some of whom moonlight at second jobs to make ends meet. The more teachers are overworked, the more education leaders worry about their abilities in the classroom waning.

Authorities that backed the cut such as Public Committee Chairman Rob Eissler say that the merit pay idea was good while it lasted, but because the funds have run dry changes need to be made, regardless of the difficulty it is putting the teachers in.

“It was a good idea when we had more money, but that also made it among the most expendable when we had to start cutting” expenses, he said.

However, there is some good news for teachers. A new bonus program called the Educator Excellence Innovation Program is set to be launched in the 2014-15 school year for schools that have a large percentage of students with low-income backgrounds.

Merit pay is alive in Louisiana, albeit in a small way. Louisiana’s bonus plan set up by Governor Bobby Jindal pays out small amounts — just a few hundred dollars — but is touted by Superintendent John White as an encouraging gesture to teachers.