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A New Look At Education Merit Pay

February 7, 2012, 9:57 PM by Austin Hoffman

A New Look At Education Merit Pay
PIERRE, SD - Changes are already being made to Governor Dennis Daugaard's 'merit pay' bill. Even before the measure's first hearing.

After what lawmakers say were hundreds of daily emails, comments from other lawmakers and input from those on the front lines of education, a new plan has been unveiled with the same goal in mind.

"So long as the goal remains the same, different approaches to reach that end, I'm open to," Governor Dennis Daugaard said.

Tuesday, lawmakers in Pierre unveiled a plan similar to Daugaard's but different at the same time. Originally the Governor asked for a $3,500 bonus to attract new math and science teachers. Tuesday's plan calls for an $8,000 bonus to those teachers for their first five years to help pay off student loans.

"I think it represents what the Governor wants to accomplish and what we need to accomplish which is enticing more students into math and science fields of study," House Majority Leader Representative David Lust said.

The second part of the plan was to give the top 20 percent of teachers a $5,000 bonus. That option is still on the table.  But two others are now by its side.

Districts could also choose to opt-out of the reward program all together.

"They felt that it would pit one teacher against another, it would end collaboration, and quite frankly I think our teachers are better than that," Senate Majority Leader Senator Russ Olson said.

District officials could also create a reward plan of their own.

"Hearing the feedback from school districts and teachers, this responds to the desire for flexibility but also maintains the premise that there needs to be accountability for these rewards," Rep. Lust said.

The last part of the plan is to do away with tenure. If passed, come July 1, teachers that already have it will keep it. But it would be a thing of the past after that.

"Guaranteeing people that because you make it through a certain calendar date you'll have a job in South Dakota, rather than doing what's best for our kids, isn't the right path that we want to head down," Sen. Olson said.

Governor Daugaard says his job is to weed out the issues and find specific remedies to them. He hopes these will carry education into the future.

"I believe that our teachers in South Dakota want very much for our students to do well. And I believe that some of the suggestions made in the amendments that will be offered tomorrow will go a long way towards helping the education community feel comfortable that we can work together toward approving student achievement as best we can," Gov. Daugaard said.

In response to the proposed changes, the state's Democratic Party released this statement:

"These amendments neither improve student achievement nor represent the will of communities across South Dakota. It's time Republicans give up the education reform charade and instead focus on fixing the problems they created when they cut education funding by eight percent."

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