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Governor Pawlenty's Q-Comp Tax Hike

May 08, 2009 By John Fitzgerald, Education Policy Fellow

It is ironic and quite disappointing that the same folks who cry "No New Taxes" are the same who want to raise your property taxes.

Their target? Q Comp.

Q Comp is short for Quality Compensation, Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan for teacher merit pay. Q Comp encourages school boards and teachers to come up with alternatives to the traditional "steps and lanes" schedule of determining teacher salaries. As a sweetener, the state bumps up the amount of state aid per student for districts that elect to use Q Comp. Districts can also levy additional property taxes without a referendum.

Did you catch that? The Governor is encouraging districts to increase taxes.

And now Gov. Pawlenty wants Q Comp implemented statewide. In fact, when he touts that his budget plan won't cut education funding, he really means districts that implement Q Comp will get more money while those that don't will, at best, lose money to inflation.

In the 2009-10 school year, Q Comp districts will see an extra $190.06 per student in state aid and will have the ability to levy an additional $69.94 per student from property taxpayers in the district. In 2010, that will shift to $169 per pupil in state aid and districts can levy $91.

There are currently 39 school districts that participate in Q Comp. Of those, 33 took the state money and raised property taxes in their district. To illustrate the difference in amounts received by Q Comp districts, the Office of the Legislative Auditor recently reported that in 2008, Birch Grove Community School received about $12,000 in Q Comp state aid, whereas the Rosemount-Apple Valley-Eagan School District received $7.3 million from state and local funding sources.

The irony of Gov. Pawlenty's position on Q Comp is that it acknowledges that schools need more money to operate and that the traditional finance structure is inadequate to do this.

Let's be honest: While Q Comp talks a great game about "revitalizing" this or "restructuring" that, all the schools really want is to keep the doors open. Since 2003, state funding for education has dropped 13 percent after adjusting for inflation. Q Comp is a no-brainer: Schools desperately need resources, the state is offering money, schools jump through a few hoops and take the money.

Not everything about Q Comp is bad. The program promotes professional development. It encourages teachers to become mentors. It allows for peer evaluations, which - when done correctly - can be very effective.

But other criteria are a bit sketchy. Q Comp requires districts to "reform" their traditional salary schedule so that experience and educational attainment aren't automatically rewarded. Huh? Perhaps the research on this is thin, but it makes sense that a class taught by an experienced, educated teacher will be more effective than a class taught by a nincompoop.

The last criterion requires districts entering Q Comp to dream up a way to measure whether a teacher is worth their salary. This is called merit pay and Pawlenty says it should be based on three criteria: school wide student achievement, achievement for a teacher's own students, and teacher evaluations.

How do we measure student achievement? Do we measure achievement as we do with the MCA II test, one test on one day? What happens when you have four kids who don't speak English in your class? What if you have three who are mainstreamed special education students? Can your class pass the MCA II? No, it can't, and you lose any pay increase no matter how good a teacher you may be.

Reviews are problematic. Cuts to administration have left buildings with as many as 100 teachers with only three administrators capable of performing reviews. They may actually get to the classroom to conduct a review, but they can't spend quality time with the teacher. Until the corps of administrators is rejuvenated, the idea of quality teacher reviews is ridiculous.

There is only one true judge of a teacher's performance, and that is from the parent who can see if their child is learning and can intervene if something is awry. Unfortunately, that scenario doesn't translate well to a pay increase or decrease, which is Q Comp's goal.

Here's a suggestion: Dump merit pay until we have a good way to judge merit. Keep steps and lanes until we come up with a better way to reward experience and education. Keep professional development programs, mentorship programs and peer review programs - all very effective for both students and teachers.

And let's just remember that the "No New Taxes" crowd wants to raise property taxes. If the need is great and the cause is just, Minnesotans will support fair tax increases. If the method of increasing taxes is underhanded, then we have the duty to make sure our leaders don't implement those taxes.

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