SC senator outlines incentive pay for teachers

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COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - A Democratic state senator on Monday outlined an incentive program aimed at putting South Carolina’s best teachers in front of students who need them the most.

Sen. John Matthews, D-Bowman, said in order to build the skilled workforce needed for the state’s economy to succeed, lawmakers must do something to encourage high-quality teachers to work in high-poverty, hard-to-staff schools. His plan, developed from discussions with educators across the state, would provide $10,000 yearly bonuses to teachers who have proved they can boost students’ performance.

He outlined the plan at a meeting of the Education Oversight Committee, of which he is a member.

Under the plan, teachers could be offered a three-year contract at a struggling school if test scores from the previous two years show their students posted big gains in academic growth under their tutelage. Getting the bonus in the final year of the contract would require test scores that prove they’re making a difference in their new setting.

Matthews, a 39-year veteran of the Legislature, said he’s still working on the details of a pilot program he wants added to the 2014-15 state budget. He envisions starting with a dozen schools located in both rural and urban areas.

The pilot would also involve giving teachers $500 bonuses per quarter for not missing a single school day, as well as $500 per quarter for traveling more than 30 miles to work. Teachers would also get relocation assistance to move more than 50 miles.

It’s often difficult to find good teachers willing to commute or move to rural areas of South Carolina, said Matthews, a retired elementary school principal.

He said he did not have a cost estimate for the program.

Currently, South Carolina provides incentives only to teachers who earn national certification, and legislators have been trying to phase out that program, which provides an annual bonus of either $5,000 or $7,500 - depending on when the teacher applied - for the 10-year life of the certificate.

South Carolina consistently ranks third nationwide in National Board Certified teachers, with more than 8,600 statewide.

But Superintendent Mick Zais has repeatedly argued the program has not proved to increase teacher effectiveness. And legislators have long complained that few National Board Certified teachers work in low-performing schools.

Zais said he agrees the state needs to pay an incentive to get great teachers into rural, low-income schools. But he believes a statewide system for evaluating teachers based on their performance must come first.

Thirteen districts are currently piloting his evaluation plan.

“His plan could be a component,” Zais said of Matthews‘ idea. “Before we get to that level, we need a performance system.”

Matthews‘ plan also comes as Republican Gov. Nikki Haley proposes spending an additional $177 million next school year on K-12 schools, focusing on poor students, technology and reading in the primary grades. Her Democratic opponent, Sen. Vincent Sheheen, wants to expand full-day 4-year-old kindergarten statewide and increase teachers’ pay to the national average.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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