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Perry allots millions for teacher merit raises

Nov. 3, 2005

by ABE LEVY, the Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO -- Gov. Rick Perry directed $10 million Wednesday to go toward merit-based raises for teachers at economically disadvantaged schools, a move designed to attract high performers and keep them in classroom.

The funds would provide grants to 100 campuses, which amounts to less than 2 percent of public schools in Texas.

Joined by Education Commissioner Shirley Neeley at an elementary school, Perry said he was issuing an executive order for grants up to $100,000 per school for campuses with large numbers of students from low-income families that show marked improvement.

"More than 200 years of experience with the American free market system says that you reward high performers with dollars," he said. "If we want our children to achieve in the classroom, we need to encourage our teachers to stay in the classroom."

Perry said the announcement was necessary because a divided Legislature this year failed to agree on how to fund a teacher pay raise. Perry said he still supports an across-the-board pay raise for all teachers, including increasing minimum pay, but that's a matter for the next Legislature.

Incentive-based proposals faced much opposition from lawmakers and teacher groups during recent legislative sessions.

This program created by Perry's order comes from existing federal education funds he has discretion over, he said.

At least three-fourths of the grant must go to high-performing teachers credited with fueling success at the discretion of the schools' principals. The funding will provide grants to 100 campuses. Perry said he is asking the Legislative Budget Board to provide another $25 million for another 250 campuses.

Teachers are leaving for better-paying, private-sector jobs, he said, while the ones remaining are getting older and working in a statewide system with a growing enrollment each year.

A survey by the American Federation of Teachers shows that Texas salaries were $5,799 less than the national average for the 2002-03 school year, the most recent year for which data is available. That put Texas 30th in the nation, at an average of $39,972.

Perry and Neeley did not offer details on how schools or teachers would qualify for the funding but said it would include a range of factors, including results from state-mandated testing.

Richard Khouri, spokesman for the Texas State Teachers Association, said he expects test results will be used to unfairly stack the deck against other deserving teachers whose achievement is measured in more subtle ways.

"None of the teacher organizations supported this proposal in a regular and three special sessions," Khouri said.

"This plan might give 5 percent of teachers a nominal raise," Khouri said.

Any teacher pay raise in Texas is positive, but unless teachers at qualifying campuses have input, the governor's plan could backfire, said Brock Gregg, governmental relations director for the 105,000-member Association of Texas Professional Educators.

"Nearly all teachers believe it takes every teacher on that campus, including teachers' aides, to have some kind of an effect on each student," Gregg said. "Without input from teachers on who gets the raise, there is the potential to cause discord on the campus."

Republican Comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn, who is making a run to oust Perry in next year's gubernatorial race, chastised Perry for not raising the salaries of all teachers.

"Gov. Rick Perry needs to realize that all of our Texas teachers are underpaid and underappreciated, not just those at economically disadvantaged schools," Strayhorn said in a statement.

Strayhorn said the federal grant money was already going to Texas schools, but Perry's announcement was an attempt to "repackage it to take political credit."

Perry also announced an order for the Texas Education Agency to expand a 2-year-old program that reimburses teachers for out-of-pocket purchases of classroom supplies.

He said he was adding $2.5 million to the program that has reimbursed teachers $5 million to date.

He also said he's ordered the TEA to add $600,000 to the "Teacher Advancement Program," a pilot project at three Richardson schools that boosts pay for high-performance teachers who then serve as peer mentors.

The new funding would add six new schools yet to be determined, he said.