- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 1, 2007

Rewarding effective teachers with more pay has bipartisan support on Capitol Hill as about a dozen House members pushed a bill last week that would help states and localities set up merit-based pay systems for educators.

“If we are intent on placing a high-quality teacher in every U.S. classroom, then we must be willing to support innovative, locally driven concepts such as performance pay for teachers and principals,” said a letter in support of the bill, distributed to House members last week by Republican Reps. Tom Price of Georgia and Howard P. “Buck” McKeon of California.

The bill has 12 co-sponsors, including two Democrats, and would establish in law the Teacher Incentive Fund, which was created by the Bush administration in fiscal 2006. The program would provide grants to help develop performance-based pay systems that reward teachers and principals who boost student achievement levels and close achievement gaps.

The fund received about $99 million in 2006, and administration officials doled out about half of that, but Congress essentially zeroed out funding in 2007 as a cost-cutting measure.

So now, the administration and Republicans are working to give the fund more legitimacy and permanency, which is why the administration is seeking $199 million in 2008 funding and Mr. Price and Mr. McKeon introduced their bill.

Taking steps to move to performance-based pay systems for teachers is contentious, especially with teachers’ unions. But the idea appears to have growing bipartisan support, including key Democrats such as House education panel Chairman George Miller of California.

At a Brookings Institution event last week, Mr. Miller answered a critic of performance-based pay, by telling him: “When I talk to teachers, they don’t think it’s such a terrible idea.”

He added, “People are entitled to be rewarded. … They have different levels of talent.”

Lawmakers do debate the details though, and one key question they face is how exactly teachers’ effectiveness would be measured. Rep. Michael N. Castle, Delaware Republican, said teachers often ask him who will judge their performance. “That’s one of the hurdles that’s got to be overcome,” he said.

The Teacher Incentive Fund doesn’t tell states or localities how to set the reward systems — which could include bonuses or raises. The idea is to recruit and retain effective teachers, especially in subjects such as math and science.

Supporters of the new bill hope to add more Republicans and Democrats as sponsors, and ideally, they would like to include it as part of overall legislation to renew the No Child Left Behind Act this year. They realize that will be a challenge though.

“This is one of those programs that has broad, broad support, but because the teachers unions are opposed, Democratic leadership will not cross them,” said one Republican aide.

Mr. Miller hasn’t signed onto the new bill, but he and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy of Massachusetts have their own broad bill that includes a similar performance-pay program for teachers.


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