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Eye On Boise

The timing of merit-pay bonuses under new school reform laws…

It turns out that state law doesn't require the state Department of Education to wait until after the November election before sending out merit-pay bonuses to teachers under the “Students Come First” school reform laws after all. A bill that passed the 2012 Legislature, SB 1329, changed the reform law to require that the bonuses go out “by no later than” the third payment of state funds to school districts, which goes out Nov. 15, rather than the previous wording in the law, which said they should be “made as part of” that payment. Nevertheless, the state Department of Education maintains current timelines would prevent the payments from going out earlier anyway.

“We cannot send data out and have it be incorrect,” department spokeswoman Meliss McGrath told the Associated Press. “We are talking about people's money here, and we have to get it right.” Opponents of the reforms have accused Luna of holding the payments “hostage” to try to persuade voters not to repeal the laws on Nov. 6.

Meanwhile, the state has again delayed the release of data telling teachers whether they've earned a bonus under the new law. It had originally been scheduled to go out Sept. 1, but the department said Friday it's being held up because school districts were given more time to appeal student achievement results. Click below for a full report from AP reporter Jessie Bonner.

State's release of teacher merit pay data delayed
By JESSIE L. BONNER, Associated Press

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The release of data telling teachers whether they've earned a bonus under Idaho's new merit pay plan has been delayed again, education officials said Friday.

The pay-for-performance data likely won't go out until next week, state Department of Education spokeswoman Melissa McGrath said. The information was initially scheduled to go out on Sept. 1 but the release was rescheduled for this week before being delayed a second time.

The release was held up because school districts were given more time to appeal student achievement results earlier this year, McGrath said.

After districts get the merit pay data, they'll have 30 days to appeal any of the information being used to calculate the bonuses.

The data dump was pushed back as opponents of the pay-for-performance system criticize state officials over the timing of the bonus payout, scheduled for Nov. 15. The bonuses are part of a reform package that was introduced by state schools chief Tom Luna in 2011 and is being challenged at the ballot box on Nov. 6.

If the laws including merit pay are repealed, Luna's department has said it won't have the legal authority to distribute the $38.7 million in teacher bonuses. However, even though they opposed the reforms, critics say the money should be distributed earlier because teachers earned it.

“There's no doubt that they could and should disburse the money sooner,” said retiring Rep. Brian Cronin, D-Boise, a strategist for the campaign working to overturn Luna's reforms.

Luna's agency has countered that the bonuses must be part of a third funding installment, sent to districts Nov. 15, under the merit pay law. While the law was altered in 2012 to say the bonuses must go out by the third payment, not as part of the third payment, Luna's department maintains it cannot get the money out sooner.

“We cannot send data out and have it be incorrect,” McGrath said. “We are talking about people's money here, and we have to get it right.”

Foes of the reforms argue the merit pay plan unfairly links teacher pay to misleading standardized testing and places emphasis on a single test score.

McGrath said the merit pay is not linking pay to anything, and the bonuses are in addition to base salaries. She also took issue with the test score claim, saying Idaho's new accountability system measures student academic growth, which requires the comparison of two sets of test scores.

“It just doesn't make any sense that they would oppose this so much, but they still want teachers to get this money,” McGrath said.

Cronin countered that teachers have seen their paychecks shrink dramatically over the past several years.

“If you're a teacher, you want to have access to that money regardless of whether it's part of a merit pay program you oppose or not,” Cronin said.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.


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Betsy Z. Russell covers Idaho news from The Spokesman-Review's bureau in Boise.

Named best state-based political blog in Idaho for 2013 by The Fix

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