Florida’s present system of setting teacher salaries through district-level collective bargaining with no statewide framework makes it nearly impossible to implement reforms like differential pay for math and science teachers. Differential pay for math and science has been in the state’s statutes for years, but (to my knowledge) it has never been enacted anywhere in Florida.
However, last year the Georgia legislature and governor adopted a pay scheme that provides starting math and science teachers a $4,600 salary differential. How were they able to do this?
Georgia has a statewide teacher salary schedule. It is not inflexible – there is still the opportunity for district school boards and teachers’ unions to negotiate supplements to the statewide scale (and they do). But the statewide framework provides opportunities to push data-driven reforms that have little chance of implementation in a system that is completely district-based.
From the point of view of an economic purist, the Georgia scheme has flaws, just as Florida’s district-based salary schedules do. Like district-based salary schedules in Florida and nearly everywhere else, large automatic raises are given for graduate degrees, even though a significant amount of research shows that such degrees have little or no correlation with increased student achievement.
However, Georgia’s statewide salary schedule does a somewhat better job than some of Florida’s district-based salary schedules in providing large pay increases early in a teacher’s career. Student achievement is strongly correlated to teacher experience early in a teacher’s career, but the correlation weakens considerably as the teacher reaches five years of experience. For a teacher with a bachelor’s degree, Georgia’s statewide schedule provides a 26.0% increase during a teacher’s first ten years. In contrast, the 2007-2008 salary schedule for my home county, Leon, provides only a 9.7% increase in the first ten years. Instead, the Leon County schedule provides large increases beginning in year 20.
It is clear that the Florida Legislature will take up teacher compensation and tenure reform during the 2011 session. The question is this: Will we have a replay of this year’s SB 6 donnybrook? Or will the legislature look for a way forward that will provide opportunities for important reforms without appearing vindictive toward the teachers’ unions? If it’s the latter, perhaps the Georgia statewide salary schedule will provide a model for the Florida legislature to follow.