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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Texas Schools Balk at Merit-Pay

Only 43 percent of the state's districts to install new merit-play plan.
By The Associated Press
Less than half of Texas school districts agreed to participate in the state's new merit pay plan for teachers, according to a final count released by the Texas Education Agency.

The agency said 442 of the state's 1,033 districts, or 43 percent, opted to take part in the $148 million District Awards for Teacher Excellence program.

The participating school districts, which include most of the state's largest, will share the merit pay money beginning in the 2008-09 school year.

The state plan recommends a $3,000 bonus per teacher for achievement in improving test scores and other signs of student progress.

State officials said they were surprised that so many districts opted out.
"Some districts may have opted not to apply because they have another merit pay plan already in place, or they may have decided they are unable to put up the local matching funds required to participate," said Debbie Ratcliffe, spokeswoman for the education agency.

Participating districts must put up a 15 percent match in either local funds or in-kind contributions. The match is scheduled to increase in future years.

Some local educators criticized the matching requirement, partly because it was not part of the original 2006 law creating the program.

Cindy Clegg of the Texas Association of School Boards said many local school officials were not expecting the matching funds requirement. Districts are also concerned about state rules calling for them to eventually find a way to fund the program on their own, she said.

"It takes a lot of time and effort to put a plan like this together," she said. "Until there is a clear commitment and some funding stability, you are going to see districts approach this tentatively."

The hundreds of participating districts should provide a good test of the merit pay program in Texas, said Rob Eissler, chairman of the House Public Education Committee. He believes districts will come up with locally designed merit pay plans that will produce results in the classroom.

Eissler said education officials are "trying to spread out the funds a little better and put in more local control.
"Anytime you have to put your own resources into the game, you're going to pay a little more attention to what you're doing," said Eissler, R-The Woodlands.

Teacher groups have criticized the program as a way for the Legislature to avoid bigger pay increases for all teachers.
Richard Kouri of the Texas State Teachers Association said he expects teachers to vote against having merit pay at their schools at votes taken later this year.

"I think you're going to see the number of districts participating drop after they start holding those votes," he said.

Copyright 2007 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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