States

New Law Allows Ky. Districts To Pilot Differentiated Pay

By David J. Hoff — April 17, 2002 4 min read
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After losing a bruising battle over teacher compensation and certification two years ago, the Kentucky legislature has quietly passed what appears to be a first-of-its-kind law that will experiment with new ways of paying teachers, while also raising the amount of money they earn under the current salary schedule.

The new law will allow five districts to abandon the traditional pay scale based on teachers’ education and experience. The districts will have the chance to give performance-based rewards, entice teachers with higher salaries to such high-demand fields as math and science, or try any other novel approach that might solve the shortage of qualified teachers in the state’s classrooms.

“They can take whatever approaches they want to take, to show we can do something different,” said Rep. Jon E. Draud, the vice chairman of the House education committee and a co-sponsor of the bill.

“We have to at least be able to try some different things,” the Republican said.

Although some districts around the country have adopted differentiated pay scales, Kentucky may be the first state to do so for teachers with specialties in subjects where there are shortages, according to Kathy Christie, a vice president of the Education Commission of the States.

The new law also guarantees teachers the same percentage raises that go to state employees—an attempt to raise teacher pay to compete with surrounding states.

“We need to do both—look at base pay ... and give teachers opportunities beyond the base pay or salary schedule,” said Rep. Harry Moberly Jr., the bill’s sponsor and the chairman of the House appropriations and revenue committee. Mr. Moberly is a Democrat.

Even with the guaranteed raises, the state’s largest teachers’ union stayed neutral in the discussion of the bill, declining to support it but holding off on the lobbying power that scuttled a teacher-quality bill in 2000.

The Kentucky Education Association’s board of directors split on the issue when members from Jefferson County, which includes Louisville, objected to the differentiated pay, according to Judith R. Gambill, the union’s president.

Gov. Paul E. Patton, a Democrat, signed the measure into law April 2.

Try, Try Again

In 2000, a task force on teacher quality recommended that the state adopt a differentiated pay scale to attract teachers into subject areas and regions experiencing shortages. (“Kentucky Teacher-Quality Plan Fights for Life,” March 29, 2000.)

Like most states, the Bluegrass State struggles to recruit qualified teachers for rural areas. It also faces a dearth of mathematics, science, and foreign-language teachers—also a national problem.

An earlier task force, formed by Gov. Patton in 1999, recommended a series of proposals to remedy the shortages, such as using differentiated pay statewide and requiring middle school teachers to demonstrate their knowledge in the courses they teach.

Many of the noncontroversial sections of the task force’s plan passed, but the differentiated-pay provision and the middle school requirement did not.

Teachers’ unions often resist pay for performance, bonuses, and other attempts to deviate from the traditional pay scale. Their leaders argue that such methods of determining salaries are unfair and divisive, setting teachers against one another. During the debate in 2000, the National Education Association affiliate objected to the differentiated-pay plan—along with requiring middle school teachers to demonstrate their knowledge of subject matter—claiming it would have disrupted the pay scale.

But Ms. Gambill said she urged the KEA board members to support the bill this year.

“Differentiated pay is very, very scary,” she said, “but to me, you get in there and craft it as best you can, as opposed to letting someone mandate it upon you.”

This time around, supporters of innovative pay plans scaled back their quest for a statewide system in favor of pilot projects. The state will choose the pilot sites based on applications submitted by districts.

“It’s probably the most sensible and doable way to approach this,” said Robert F. Sexton, the executive director of the Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence, a citizens’ group that supports the state’s school improvement efforts.

“Now, we go on to the larger array of things in future sessions,” Mr. Sexton said.

Coming Up Short

While Mr. Moberly’s bill promises the state will pay for teacher raises that match those of state employees starting in the 2004-05 budget, the lawmaker said the legislature still could reach that goal this year.

Kentucky’s legislators were scheduled to reconvene April 15 to complete unfinished business.

The House and the Senate still must reach a compromise on separate plans, and Mr. Moberly says he will push the Senate to give teachers the same 2.7 percent increase it has proposed for others.

In the past decade, state employees have received raises of about 5 percent annually. Over the same period, teachers have routinely failed to keep up.

“If they can get 2.7 [percent],” Mr. Moberly said, “they’ll be getting more than they did when the economy was better.”

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A version of this article appeared in the April 17, 2002 edition of Education Week as New Law Allows Ky. Districts To Pilot Differentiated Pay

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