Interim study examines teacher pay (Capitol Update)

In the wake of an alarming teacher shortage in Oklahoma, there was an interim study last week in the Senate Appropriations committee requested by Sen. David Bullard, R-Durant. The purpose of the study was to look at “qualitative pay” for teachers. Sen. Bullard said after 15 years of teaching, he learned that there are some “very good teachers,” some “middle of the road,” and some “not so good.” He said the not-so-good teachers had the capability to do better. Sen. Bullard said his motivation for studying the qualitative pay issue was to “pay better teachers better money.”  

The committee heard information from the Iowa Department of Education about Iowa’s Teacher Leadership and Compensation (TLC) program that has been in effect for several years. According to the Iowa Department of Education website, through the Iowa TLC system, teacher leaders take on extra responsibilities, including helping colleagues analyze data and fine tune instructional strategies as well as coaching and co-teaching. 

Among the goals of the TLC system are retaining effective teachers by providing enhanced career opportunities; promoting collaboration through opportunities for teachers statewide to learn from each other; and rewarding professional growth and effective teaching by providing career opportunities that come with increased leadership responsibilities and involve increased compensation. 

The intention of TLC is to tap teachers with superior skills and experience to coach their colleagues and be recognized and paid for it without taking them out of the classroom. Local districts file their TLC plan with the Iowa Department of Education, and the legislature funds the extra pay with money that goes through the school funding formula to each school district.

There has been controversy over “qualitative pay” or “merit pay” or “performance pay” — the idea that “good” teachers should be paid more money because they are better than the others — has been around for decades. The idea has never been widely adopted because most teachers realize that all teachers have their strengths and weaknesses. The thought that it’s a good idea to have two teachers in the same school with the same educational qualifications and experience doing the same thing, but being paid differently based on someone’s idea that one is better than the other, is offensive to many. It’s certainly not a way to keep teachers if that’s the goal. 

Of course, all teachers are not equal. The TLC system is a method of giving teachers the opportunity, based on an objective selection method, to share their expertise with their colleagues and be recognized and paid for it. If that’s what Sen. Bullard means by paying “better teachers more money,” then the idea might have legs.


Steve Lewis served as Speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives from 1989-1990. He currently practices law in Tulsa and represents clients at the Capitol.

One thought on “Interim study examines teacher pay (Capitol Update)

  1. People generally perform better at any job where they think their efforts are fairly compensated. An individual thinks twice before turning in a poor performance that could jeopardize a good paying job. Teachers generally resent the extra burden placed on them by so-called coaches and mentors who are no better qualified than they are and the extra pay to those individuals is generally not enough to compensate for the extra demands. Honestly, in a normal year, I’m generally okay with my teacher pay. I just want lower class sizes and a district student discipline plan that works. However, in lieu of more pay, I want my evenings and weekends back, the pandemic has doubled our load as we prepare online and in person instruction. Bonuses for the year out of the millions in Covid relief money should be paid to teachers instead of some of the onerous training and “support” we’ve been offered.

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