Hard Boyled
Mon April 2, 2007 8:31 am

Carolyn Boyle, one of the founders of Texas Parent PAC, posted a comment in respose to my report on how Republicans endorsed by her organization voted on the issue of using the funds alloted in HB 1 for merit pay for an across the board pay raise. All five Republicans voted to table the proposition. Ms. Boyle wrote:

Texas Parent PAC does not have a position on teacher merit pay. The PAC endorses candidates who agree with our eight "guiding principles" (see www.txparentpac.com). One principle relates to having high quality teachers in every classroom but does not mention merit pay (either pro or con).

Here is what I wrote:

Two votes out of a possible ten could not have been what Parent PAC was hoping for. At the same time, I recognize that this was a complicated situation. Regardless of which party or faction is in the majority, members of that group are expected to defend the appropriations bill against the opposition. Furthermore, the proposal was not just for a pay raise; it was also to take the entire appropriation earmarked for merit pay to fund it. And they had to go against the speaker. Still, the saying "dance with the one who brung you" means a lot in politics, and the one who brung them wasn't Tom Craddick.

I do not oppose merit pay either. If I were in charge of education policy, I would provide a starting salary for teachers of $50,000 (or more), and in return I would require that teachers give up their union perks such as tenure agreements and across-the-board raises. Principals would have the power to hire and fire and to determine all salaries beyond the starting stipend. In other words, all pay above the starting salary would be merit pay. I believe that this approach would attract many qualified men and women who do not currently consider teaching a viable career option, while at the same time providing a mechanism to

But that is not the world we live in. We live in a world in which this Republican leadership has been reluctant to provide across-the-board raises and finally did so only to make its tax bill more palatable. Governor Perry has taken the position in the past (the 04 special session) that all pay increases should be merit pay. The only pay raise in this budget, with an $8 billion pot of money available, is merit pay. Until teachers salaries are at a level that will bring us within reach of Parent Pac's goal of "high quality teachers in every classroom," I believe that across-the-board raises continue to be necessary, supplemented by merit pay when appropriate.

Let's be honest about what's going on here. Teachers' organizations want across-the-board raises because it enables them to advocate, and take credit, for something that benefits all their members. They hate merit pay because it breaks up the solidarity and political influence of their organizations. Republicans who regard the education establishment as the enemy embrace merit pay for the same reason that teachers' organizations oppose them: it breaks up the solidarity and influence of the education community, whom they see as an extension of the Democratic party. Tort reform wiped out the influence of the trial lawyers. Education reform like merit pay can wipe out the influence of the education community (and save a bunch of money, by paying the few instead of the many).

This doesn't mean that merit pay is a bad idea. It does mean that it is an issue freighted with political agendas, and anyone who pretends that it isn't is being disingenuous.

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