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State lawmakers debate ‘merit based’ versus ‘across the board’ teacher raises

By Rick Maranon,


Governor Kevin Stitt, Superintendent Ryan Walters, and state lawmakers know they need to increase teacher pay once again, but there are questions about if a new method of how the raises are given out could improve student classroom performance.

Stitt and Walters are looking at what are called “merit-based” pay raise in which a teacher whose students are performing the best are rewarded for the outcomes they’ve helped create. There is even hope competition among teachers could cause even teachers in the same school teaching the same grade to compete for their students to excel.

“There’s teachers all over the state that say, ‘yes let’s finally start talking about how we reward the best and brightest,’ and that’s exactly what I’m going to continue to advocate for, Walters said.

As Walters and Stitt push back what they believe is social justice indoctrination in schools that distracts from getting kids ready for the workforce, merit raises are believed to point out who is teaching the curriculum most effectively and who is not focusing on the subjects they are assigned to teach.

“I want to do a merit-based pay raise. Maybe even across the board,” Stitt said.

RELATED: Oklahoma State Board of Education proposes major pay raises for teachers

Opponents of merit-based pay increases are from both parties. In the State Senate, Education Committee Chairman Adam Pugh (R-Edmond) wants a teacher minimum salary of $40,000 per year.

Teachers’ advocacy groups were at the capitol Tuesday and believe because of inflation an across-the-board raise is needed for all teachers including those who teach students who struggle or may understand course material but not excel above and beyond in it.

Democrats are also raising questions about a merit pay bonus saying it will come at the expense of struggling inner city and poorer rural schools because teachers will only want to teach in places that have the path of least resistance towards them getting more money.

“Think of your title one schools. Your schools with high poverty. Or go to a public school that doesn’t have the population in the density where it exists. Which one would you choose if you want to get this raise or bump in pay?” State Representative Melissa Provenzano (D-Tulsa) said.

Provenzano, who is a former principal, said the state tried and failed to implement a merit pay bonus system under a previous administration, but it could never come up with a way that treats all teachers and districts equally among other factors such as if a struggling student has access to a counselor or other programs within their district to help them that another student in the same grade level in another district may not have access to.

“We tried it eight or ten years ago, and we could never really get it engaged because there’s all sorts of measurements and tools,” she said. “We could never agree on one tool that will be equal and we’re pushing it on down to principals who see the work their teachers are doing and they do not want to lose them.”

State Representative Andy Fugate (D-Del City) said teachers right now work together to collaborate on the best ways to make sure all students are learning the lesson plans together. Fugate said if a teacher finds and effective teaching method, he or she is now likely to keep the secret of their students success themselves to get the upper hand on getting their bonus.

RELATED: Lawmakers propose solutions to low teacher wages in Oklahoma

“It causes teachers to fight with each other,” Fugate said. “Today, we have teachers who are used to collaborating with each other in classrooms on lesson plans, but if we put merit pay in place, we’ll have teachers holding back all their ideas to protect their own personal revenue stream.”

Historically in the U.S., a group of teachers in Atlanta, Georgia were found to be collaborating under a merit pay system back in 2015. Eleven teachers were arrested, convicted, and sentenced for altering their student’s test scores to make it seem like they were hitting their performance measurements in order for them to qualify for their merit raises. It is considered to be one of the greatest cheating scandals in American history.

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