State lawmakers debate expanding teacher pay program

Associated Press Writer

ST. PAUL — When lawmakers decide whether to go ahead with Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s proposal to expand Minnesota’s pay-for-performance program for teachers, they’ll have to rely mostly on perceptions of how the program is working rather than on data showing actual improvements.

Legislative auditors on Tuesday told lawmakers there isn’t enough existing data to show a link between Q Comp and student achievement. Forty-four school districts and 28 charter schools now participate in the voluntary Q Comp program, which was implemented in 2005. Only 11 of those charter schools and districts have participated for at least three years.

The report did find that a majority of administrators and teachers in the program believe it has improved professional development for teachers, which is one of Q Comp’s other components.

Q Comp, which stands for Quality Compensation for Teachers, also provides financial incentives for schools to get away from the customary system of automatically raising teacher pay for more years of experience and schooling.


Pawlenty has proposed increasing funding for Q Comp by $41 million in the next two-year budget cycle, and the education department estimates up to 70 percent of the districts would participate by the end of the two years. The expansion would continue after that.

But some members of the Senate E-12 Education Budget and Policy Division expressed concern about expanding the program without knowing more about its effects.

"When we have limited resources, is this the best use of dollars?" asked Sen. Kathy Saltzman, DFL-Woodbury, adding that other factors like class size and access to early childhood education can also have an effect on achievement.

Legislative Auditor James Nobles said that even with more data, those and other factors would make it extremely difficult for officials to know whether it’s Q Comp or something else that’s improving student achievement in a given school or school district.

"We are always looking for that one thing," Nobles said. "We probably need to start reframing the question as, what combination of factors need to be present?"

In responding to the report, which also said the program needs more consistent oversight from the Department of Education and a better application process, Education Commissioner Alice Seagren emphasized what she sees as Q Comp’s ability to improve teaching.

"There is clear research that if you have a highly qualified, effective teacher in the classroom, it does affect student achievement," Seagren said.

Seagren also said that while Q Comp includes merit and performance-based pay, critics are too quick to focus on that. "Q Comp is about so much more than the performance component," she said.


The report also found that reluctance from teachers caused some districts not to participate. And some smaller school districts weren’t participating in Q Comp because they couldn’t devote the staff time needed to come up with a plan and apply for the program.

That finding troubled the committee’s chairman, Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, who said any program paid for by general education funding should be equally accessible to all districts. But Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, said the bigger question will be whether to spend even more money to expand Q Comp at a time when other state programs are being cut.

"I wouldn’t say for sure that it’s an impossible expansion, but I would say that this legislature has to balance the budget," he said.

Sen. David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said he sees enough potential benefits in Q Comp to allow it to continue. "I’m a little reluctant to give up on it after four years," he said.

Seagren said the governor’s plan to expand Q Comp statewide will be introduced as legislation within a week.

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