ATLANTA – Lawmakers momentarily shelved education reform last winter when educators objected to proposals to change how they get paid.
Those reform efforts - including a possible overhaul of the state’s education funding formula - are expected to resume next month when legislators return to the Gold Dome.
This time, they’ll have input from dozens of teachers.
A committee of 90 educators from across the state, led by veteran teacher Amy Carter, a Republican representative from Valdosta, met over the last few months to hash out proposals made by Gov. Nathan Deal’s education reform commission.
“I hope they’ll listen to what these teachers had to say,” Carter said this week.
She has another wish - that each of her colleagues spends a day in a classroom to get a clearer picture of the life of a teacher. Absent that, lawmakers will at least have a 22-page report that the group produced this fall.
The committee focused mostly on teacher recruitment and retention, educating students who learn at a faster pace than others and – the issue that sparked controversy – teacher pay.
Last January, work on education reform ground to a halt after the education community resisted plans to tie a portion of teacher pay to classroom success. Salaries now are based on years of experience and degrees.
Much of the fury seemed to bubble up from dissatisfaction with how much weight is given to student test scores in teacher evaluations. They once represented half of a teacher's score on a state scale but were reduced to 30 percent.
Carter said teachers were more receptive when hearing of intentions to allow current educators to stay on existing pay scales, if they prefer. New teachers would not have an option.
Teachers on the committee favored the concept of districts factoring a teacher’s additional duties, such as mentoring a colleague or supervising an intern, when designing pay models.
Rep. Mike Dudgeon, R-Johns Creek, who served on the reform commission, said the outrage over merit pay was unwarranted.
The outgoing state representative told a gathering of the conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation this week that Deal's commission was “not about pay-for-performance.”
“That was one sentence in a 90-page report where we said the local system could include performance metrics as part of their compensation if they wanted to, but it got blown out of proportion unfortunately in the media,” he said.
Even so, it’s unclear how that sentence will be translated in the future, said Claire Suggs, an education policy analyst with the left-leaning Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.
Deal's reform commission, she said, suggested districts include a measure of teacher effectiveness when developing new pay plans.
“Now, they haven’t defined ‘effectiveness.’ Does that mean it’s based on test scores or are there other things that districts could use?” she said. “That’s just an open question mark.”
If the state gives districts freedom to create pay models, as the reform commission proposed, teachers want a say in the details, Carter said.
“We emphatically stated that teachers must be at the table as districts develop new compensation models,” she said.
Other ideas, like a plea to protect teachers' planning time, were also included in the committee’s report to Deal.
It's still unclear what specific reforms will play into the governor’s agenda, but much of his commission’s focus last year was on modernizing how the state pays for education.
“Our expectations for students have changed considerably. What students are expected to know and be able to do is much, much, much higher in 2016 than it was in 1985,” Suggs said.
She said the proposed new formula, though, falls short.
It’s more “a redistribution of funds” than a real look at what it costs to educate students today, she said.
For example, the proposed formula includes, for the first time, money for low-income students, but it comes from what is now spent on remedial programs, she said.
Nor does the formula account for inflationary costs, she said, which could cause district funding to fall behind.
Also, it treats all districts the same when it comes to transportation funding when, in fact, needs vary dramatically across the state.
Jill Nolin covers the Georgia Statehouse for CNHI's newspapers and websites. Reach her at email@example.com.