|(Steve Gunn/EAG Communications) – Could the Los Angeles Unified School District erase its financial problems with one bold policy change?
The district is currently grappling with a $408 million budget deficit, according to media reports.
And it spends more than $519 million per year on bonuses for teachers who taken additional college courses, despite evidence that they are no more effective than teachers with basic bachelor’s degrees.
As one blogger put it, “that money could be used for a thousand more useful purposes, such as hiring more faculty or raising the salaries of great teachers.”
Almost all public schools have higher pay scales for teachers with advanced degrees, or credits toward a higher degree.
Teachers and their unions love the extra money. As Bill Gates put it, getting them to forfeit those bonuses would be like “kicking a beehive.”
But Gates and many experts think the hive should be kicked, for the financial and academic health of public schools across the nation.
Every year American schools pay more than $8.6 billion in bonuses to teachers with master’s degrees (or working toward advanced degrees), according to a recent article in the Huffington Post. In 13 states, more than two percent of total education spending goes to teachers for some type of master’s degree bonus, the newspaper said.
Nearly half of American K-12 teachers have a master’s degree or higher, and most receive a bonus ranging between $1,423 and $10,777 per year, according to research conducted at the University of Washington.
To top it all off, many schools partially or fully reimburse teachers for the cost of tuition.
“My own state of Washington has an average salary bump of nearly $11,000 for a master’s degree, and more than half of our teachers get it,” Gates said during a speech in Louisville last year. “That’s more than $300 million every year that doesn’t help kids. And that’s one state.”
Clearly this is money poorly spent. And public schools can’t afford to waste a dime of revenue these days.
A big part of the problem was created by state governments, not teachers or their unions.
Many states require K-12 teachers to earn a certain number of graduate credits throughout their careers to maintain their certification and jobs.
In Michigan, for instance, teachers are required to successfully complete 18 credit hours of graduate courses in their first five years, and six credit hours every five years after that. Those who fail to meet those requirements can be terminated.
Another problem is that many states are not specific about the advanced college classes that teachers must take.
Some teachers can earn a higher degree in a field that has little or no connection to their teaching subject and still get big raises.
Ninety percent of teachers’ master’s degrees are in the general realm of “education,” instead of specific subjects like math or science, according to the University of Washington study.
In one extreme case that was recently noted on PhillyBurbs.com, a New York City teacher completed 30 graduate hours and qualified for a $1,850 annual raise. The teacher in question does not teach physical education or coach sports, but the five classes he took were all related to effective coaching of various sports.
In Los Angeles, advanced college work for teachers can include online seminars or music appreciation classes, according to DailyNews.com.
“There is a role for ongoing learning, but unless there is a correlation to student achievement, I don’t know if it’s worth the investment,” Yolie Flores, an LA school board member, was quoted as saying.
The profitability of the current system will clearly make it difficult to alter. Teachers collect big raises for earning higher degrees, so their unions can be counted on to defend the bonus system.
Many universities make a lot of money from teachers taking graduate classes, and they will also use their political clout do defend a crucial stream of revenue.
But change does occur.
In Baltimore, the local teachers union recently agreed to a collective bargaining agreement that eliminates automatic pay increases for advanced degrees, according to National Public Radio. Under the old contract, teachers with 10 years of experience could make $8,000 more per year with a masters degree.
In Florida, a new law prevents teachers from receiving compensation for advanced degrees.
In Indiana, a new law says an advanced degree will be only one criteria used to determine if a teacher deserves a raise.
It’s clear that other states should pursue such measures, both for short-term savings and long-term school improvement.
Many school districts around the nation have been saving big dollars by suspending automatic annual “step” raises altogether. But in some cases that’s hard to implement, due to union objections.
But it may be easier to eliminate the higher pay scales that reward bigger raises to teachers with advanced degrees. That would save hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be used to avoid layoffs or the elimination of student programs.
Schools can also save significant money by cancelling tuition reimbursement for teachers.
As the economy improves, higher education bonuses should be transformed into teacher performance bonuses. Instead of rewarding teachers for obtaining advanced degrees, and hoping their extra education benefits students, the money could be spent on teachers who clearly demonstrate classroom effectiveness.
That would be a much more logical investment.
The Tide Is Turning Against Bonuses For Teachers With Advanced Degrees