Perdue hints at teacher pay options

ATLANTA --- Teachers can opt to have their pay raises based partly on how well their students perform, according to legislation Gov. Sonny Perdue said Tuesday he will introduce.

He also said only one area of the budget -- mental health -- will be getting more money under his recommendations.

His answer to health reform is to allow individuals to purchase insurance approved in other states, even if it hasn't been OK'd by Georgia's insurance commissioner.

The governor gave the first hints at his legislative package during a speech to 2,700 people attending a breakfast sponsored by the Georgia Chamber of Commerce. He will make a more extensive pitch for it today during his State of the State address to a joint session of the General Assembly. He also said he will unveil legislation for mandatory water conservation in addition to a way to generate new funding for transportation.

He spoke the longest on education. So-called pay for performance plans have been a longtime goal of conservatives and a sticking point with many teacher organizations fearful of members losing out in circumstances they can't completely control.

Mr. Perdue said his proposal, to be enacted over several years, would be a way for good teachers to get a major boost in pay.

"I believe our best teachers should be eligible to receive the compensation of our champion football coaches," he said.

New and veteran teachers would be able to choose to have their pay raises determined half by student achievement and half by observations of how they manage their classrooms. Or they could remain in the current system, which boosts salaries for each additional degree they earn, such as a master's or doctorate.

"Why should we continue to base pay on a proxy of an advanced degree when we can base it on the real thing?" Mr. Perdue asked.

The Georgia Educators Association is waiting for the details before they decide to support or oppose his idea, according to President Jeff Hubbard. For instance, Mr. Hubbard suggests the achievement be measured by the student's classroom participation and work on projects rather than standardized tests.

"If they are going to base it just on a standardized test score, that is going to be a problem with us because a child is more than a standardized test score and a teacher is more than a standardized test score," Mr. Hubbard said.

Mr. Perdue acknowledged such tests could lead to more allegations of teachers cheating on tests, something he intends to address with a separate bill that will do more to safeguard the integrity of tests. And he said he'll seek teacher input on how to design the merit-pay legislation to address their concerns.

Another way to improve education, he said, is to pass legislation introduced last year to boost the ethics of school boards and allow the removal of board members who don't comply. He mentioned Warren County's loss of accreditation this week as an example of the board's behavior harming the entire system.

Though he didn't say much about the looming shortfall in the current budget, he did say pending federal legislation for health reform would add to the state's troubles. His alternative was allowing the sale of insurance policies in Georgia from other states.

He told reporters after his speech that the only part of the budget to escape cutting will be programs dealing with mental health. He releases his full budget Friday.

His ideas for new money for transportation are not likely to come out of the general budget but rather from either the sale of bonds or some new form of tax, such as the various sales-tax plans under discussion in the Legislature in recent years.

Mr. Perdue's staff said details about transportation funding would come later in the session.

STATE OF THE STATE ADDRESS

ATLANTA --- Gov. Sonny Perdue will deliver the State of the State Address today at 11 a.m. Georgia Public Broadcasting will simulcast the address on GPB Knowledge, GPB Radio and stream it online at www.gpb.org. The entirety of Mr. Perdue's address can also be seen at 7 p.m. on GPB.