Some Texas Schools Reject State Merit Pay Program

In May of 2006, the Texas Educator Excellence Grant Program was enacted by a special legislative session in Texas. Governor Rick Perry and several legislators sponsored the bill, which allocates state funds to underwrite merit pay plans in Texas schools across the state. It is the largest incentive pay program in the nation.

The program essentially implements a long-standing business concept into the Texas schools, treating teachers as individual professionals rather than an educational team. Proponents of the program believe that mediocrity becomes the standard, when excellence and mediocrity are equally rewarded.

The legislature allocated $100 million for teacher bonuses for this school year, and another $250 million for the next school year. The program targets Texas schools, which have a large population of low-income students but also have earned one of the two highest state performance ratings of exemplary or recognized. Classroom teacher bonuses are only for those who teach in core subject areas and are based on student standardized test scores.

Grants for the program were awarded to 1,161 Texas schools this year, 15 percent of all traditional and charter schools within the state. Though such a program is mostly untested in public schools, the Texas schools has made it voluntary for qualifying schools. Teachers are required to give input at each school and ultimate approval of the program.

More than 24 schools already have rejected the program and grant money, some returning up to $90,000 to the state. Linda Bridges of the Texas Federation of Teachers stated that the backers of the bill never consulted the teachers before developing and passing the program. Critics of the program do not believe it will achieve what the proponents suggest it will, and teacher resistance remains high.

One reason cited is the animosity that such a plan will cause in the Texas schools, pitting teacher against teacher in order to attain the bonuses. It would dissolve the team spirit prevalent at many Texas schools, where teachers and staff all work together for the success of the entire school. This “one big family” attitude is embraced by many educators. Under the state’s program, only core subject teachers are eligible for the bonuses, ignoring many teachers who add to a school’s total success.

Many Texas schools educators see the program as a disruption, distracting teachers from focusing on raising student test scores and improving their academic achievement. Instead, they would be focused on personal gain over the total success of the school.

Another drawback to the incentive pay program is the amount of paperwork required for a school to participate. Many Texas schools teachers would much rather spend that time working with their students.

Debbie Ratcliffe of the Texas schools said they expect at least 98 percent of the schools to accept the grant money and develop merit pay plans for their teachers.