Budget merit pay - gone but not forgotten

When the Ohio Senate's preferred version of the budget was released on Tuesday, it was quickly noted by many that the administration and House's policies to asses teacher compensation and employment, primarily on high stakes testing, had been removed. Legislators have been hearing from teachers and others how unworkable, unreliable, and unfair such a system would be. In light of the fact that many of these budget provisions mirrored those in SB5, it looked like a backdoor effort to circumvent the will of the voters. The elimination of these provisions was welcome news then.

But the budget process isn't over, and these provisions may yet return.

The Senate President held a press conference on the day of the budget release had had this to say on the issue

Senate President Tom Niehaus (R-New Richmond) said during a press conference, however, the performance pay provisions were removed from the budget because of confusion about how they related to collective bargaining legislation (SB 5) and the state's Race to the Top plan.
"We removed the provisions that were confusing some people that thought it was related to Senate Bill 5 and instead we're working on language to clarify that we want to make it consistent with what they're doing with Race to the Top," Sen. Niehaus said.

"So we want to support the statewide initiative that people have to put excellent teachers in the classroom, but we want to make sure we're not confusing them, that they think it has something to do with Senate Bill 5. They're two separate issues."
The Senate president said he expects to have some provision in the Senate version of the bill related to performance pay. "So we're having those conversations, but in order to get the conversation focused on the right area and that is this is about Race to the Top, we thought the easiest thing to do was take out the part that was confusing."

This didn't make a whole lot of sense to us. Ohio's RttT grant includes teacher evaluation provisions, which teachers agreed to - but furthermore - it relies upon collective bargaining to implement, the very method the legislature and administration continually seeks to eliminate. This ODE fact sheet lays out these issues succinctly.

FACT: Through RttT, districts may augment or otherwise revise compensation systems at the local level. Such changes must be made in collaboration with teachers and local unions.

The Senate President isn't the only actor in this play however, and today comes news that some of the other antagonists are not happy with these provisions being stripped out. The Speaker of the House and the Governor himself appear unhappy

Batchelder told reporters he was disappointed by the removal of those performance-pay provisions.

"My thought is that's crazy," the Republican leader said.
Senate Finance Chairman Chris Widener had said some senators were confused why the merit pay language was in the bill, and it was being further scrutinized.

The topic came up in a Wednesday meeting that Batchelder said he had with Republican Gov. John Kasich and Niehaus, R-New Richmond.

"The governor and I are in agreement and the Senate feels differently, so we'll just have to discuss it and work it out," Batchelder said.

The House leader said he thought it would go back into the bill.

We know the Governor is keen, and most likely receiving outside advice, to insert these cooperate education reforms in the budget. After all, he was successfully lobbied by Michele Rhee to place the same provisions in SB5. Furthermore, yesterday in testimony, and today in a Dispatch Op-Ed, Terry Ryan, Ohio VP of the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute, implored the Senate to put these corporate reform ideas back in. This despite his own Executive VP writing in the NYT recently that the use of high stakes testing for the purposes of teacher evaluations was like "attacking a fly with a sledgehammer. There’s already a ton of testing in our schools. Isn’t there another alternative?"

There is an alternative. It's called collective bargaining. Teachers have already agreed to innovative evaluation systems through the RttT application and in Cincinnati Public schools.

The budget simply isn't the place for such complex policy that requires study, broad consolation and agreement to be successfully implemented. And it certainly should not be done as a backdoor effort to circumvent voter efforts to repeal SB5.

We urge you to keep calling your state legislators and tell them that.