SD Senate approves teacher bonus, scholarship proposalPIERRE — A substantially reworked version of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give bonuses to top teachers was approved Monday by the South Dakota Senate after supporters said it would boost student achievement.
By: CHET BROKAW, The Associated Press
PIERRE — A substantially reworked version of Gov. Dennis Daugaard's plan to give bonuses to top teachers was approved Monday by the South Dakota Senate after supporters said it would boost student achievement.
“Let's pass this because it is going to improve the performance of our schools,” Sen. Mark Johnson, R-Sioux Falls, said.
But opponents said the measure could hurt the quality of education because teachers competing for bonuses might stop collaborating with each other.
Sen. Tim Begalka, R-Clear Lake, said South Dakota's students already score well above the national average on achievement tests.
“I'm afraid this bill may do harm. I look at our education system in South Dakota, and I'm rather proud of it.” Begalka said.
The Senate voted 22-12 to pass the measure, which originated in the House. The bill, which would eventually spend $15 million a year, now returns to the House for consideration of changes made by the Senate.
The bill still includes the governor's original plan to give $5,000 annual bonuses beginning in the 2014-15 school year to the top 20 percent of each school district's teachers, based on a new evaluation system and measurements of student progress. However, school districts could create their own teacher reward plans or not take part at all.
The measure also would start a scholarship program in the 2013-2014 school year that would choose up to 100 college students a year to receive help with tuition and fees if they pursue teaching degrees in critically needed subjects. They would have to agree to teach such a subject for at least five years in a South Dakota school.
In addition, the bill would give $2,500 annual rewards to math and science teachers beginning in 2014.
Tenure protection would be eliminated in July 2016 for any teachers not already covered by the protection. Teachers who are tenured by then would keep it but could still be fired for poor performance. School districts could choose to continue to grant tenure to their teachers.
Daugaard has said the state has increased general financial aid to school districts for decades, but student achievement measured by test scores has not changed much. The governor said that means South Dakota should use rewards to encourage good teaching, which in turn should lead to higher student achievement.
But Sen. Angie Buhl, DSioux Falls, said the teacher reward program has diverted attention from the most pressing issue, which is to give school districts more money to cover their operating costs.
"Merit pay will not make teachers work harder, Buhl said. “They're not doing it for money.”
Sen. Todd Schlekeway, RSioux Falls, tried unsuccessfully to eliminate the teacher bonus and scholarship programs from the bill.
His suggestion would have set up an advisory panel to study merit pay and other issues and then report back to the Legislature, but the Senate rejected that proposal on a vote of 10-24.
Schlekeway said South Dakotans are not ready to embrace the bill's provisions for merit pay. Studies have indicated that such pay systems generally do not succeed, he said.
But Johnson said the bill gives school districts the flexibility to devise reward systems that meet their needs and put extra money in the hands of good teachers.
“This gives them more money to put into the best investment a school district make, the men and women who stand before a class every single day,” Johnson said.