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Pay initiative to get close look

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty's effort to reform the way teachers are paid could get an incomplete grade in the upcoming legislative session. Education leaders in the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature said they will give the voluntary Quality C...

ST. PAUL - Gov. Tim Pawlenty's effort to reform the way teachers are paid could get an incomplete grade in the upcoming legislative session.

Education leaders in the DFL-controlled Minnesota Legislature said they will give the voluntary Quality Compensation program a tough vetting because they don't know whether it is working.

"I think it's safe to say that the whole program is going to be under a lot of scrutiny," said Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, who will lead the Senate committee handling school funding.

"That's going to be a real difficult piece of agenda, I think, for the governor to maintain," added Rep. Bud Heidgerken of Freeport, the leading Republican on the House K-12 education finance committee.

In 2005, Pawlenty made the alternative pay initiative - known as Q Comp - one of his education priorities. Legislators that year approved $78 million for the pilot program within a $12 billion education budget bill. They will approve a new two-year budget in 2007.

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Thirty-four school districts and 12 charter schools have adopted Q Comp, according to the Minnesota Department of Education. Districts in the program receive an extra $190 per student this school year, plus additional local levy authority.

To be considered, districts submit an application detailing how they will factor student achievement, such as test results, into determining teacher salaries. They also must provide more staff development, make other changes and have teachers' support for performance-based pay.

Pawlenty, a Republican who made education reform a major issue in his re-election campaign last fall, expects Q Comp will get an unfriendly reception after legislators return to work at noon Wednesday.

"I have no doubt that the Legislature is going to mess with it," Pawlenty said recently, predicting the DFL-led House and Senate will return to the "good old days" of giving schools more state money without demanding to know whether the increased aid actually improves student achievement.

Stumpf said he supports more accountability but said the program's requirements are too rigid and that in its current form Q Comp allows Education Department officials to pick favorites among school districts. He said, however, that it's too early to predict what the Legislature will do with the program.

The program must be evaluated, but it shouldn't be stripped of funding, DFL Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown said. Too often the Legislature doesn't give school initiatives time to fully develop, she said.

"I can't imagine that we would just say, 'Oh, too bad, that one's done, too,' " Murphy said. "We cannot do that another time to education."

Readers can reach Forum Communications reporter Scott Wente at (651) 290-0707 or swente@forumcomm.com

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