The Teacher Incentive Allotment could add up to $32k to Texas teachers' salaries (HB3 Part 1.5)

I ended the title of my last post on HB3 with Part 1, obviously implying at least a future Part 2. And while that is most definitely in the works, I felt that the Teacher Incentive Allotment is so interesting that it deserves its own little share of the world wide web.


So, why is the Teacher Incentive Allotment so interesting?


Well, how about this: if you're a teacher, does an extra $3,000 a year sound nice? How about $6,000? Or $12,000?


What if you could add an additional $32,000 to your salary?


I know, I know...crazy promises. The politicians will never let it happen.


Only, here's why the Teacher Incentive Allotment is so interesting: this is already in law via HB3.


Now, are there caveats? You betcha.


But even in a worse case scenario, we will no doubt have teachers all across Texas enter the 2020-2021 school year making significantly more than they are making this year.


Let me explain, and then I'll outline a couple areas of this allotment that are still a little fuzzy.


So what does the Teacher Incentive Fund do?


To quote HB3:

To ensure classroom teachers in this state have access to a six-figure salary, the allotment provided to a school district under this section offers resources to the district to increase teacher compensation and prioritize funding for high needs and rural district campuses.

So, first off, let's make one thing very clear:

THIS WILL NOT BRING SIX-FIGURE SALARIES TO TEACHERS.


The vast majority of teachers are making between the low $40k and upper $50k range. Add $32,000 to those numbers and you're well short of a six-figure salary.


However, the second half of that statement seems to be very true. The Teacher Incentive Allotment will give districts more "resources" (i.e. money) to help increase teacher compensation, and "high needs" and "rural" districts will be "prioritized" (i.e. they'll get more money).


The question is, obviously, how will districts (or in this case, teachers) qualify for these funds and what does the prioritization system look like.


Thankfully, all of this is outlined in HB3. Here are the basics:


The Teacher Incentive Fund creates three new teacher "designations" that will allow districts to receive more money for each of the three designations.


These include master teacher, exemplary teacher, and recognized teacher designations.


At a minimum, a master teacher would earn $12,000 more per year, an exemplary teacher $6,000 per year, and recognized teachers would earn $3,000.


Districts that are "high need" or "rural" would have a multiplying factor applied to those three amounts based on their concentrated poverty levels (i.e. new census block CompEd weights created by HB3) and their rural-ness.


So, in effect, for districts that are more rural and serve students of higher poverty levels, the $12,000 / $6,000 / $3,000 salary increases could potentially max out at $32,000 / $18,000 / $9,000.


The vast majority of districts will obviously fall somewhere between those two sets of amounts. I would imagine that for many districts, a master teacher will earn around $20,000 more, exemplary teachers $12,000, and recognized teachers $6,000.


Again, we're nowhere near $100,000 for teachers, but it's definitely an improvement.


Now, I can just hear everyone screaming one very distinct (and important) question:

HOW DOES A TEACHER EARN THESE DISTINCTIONS?


Well, that brings me to those two fuzzy areas of the Teacher Incentive Allotment.


1) The criteria for the three designations is in the hands of the commissioner.


Here's what HB3 has to say on this topic:

...a school district or open-enrollment charter school may designate a certified classroom teacher as a master, exemplary, or recognized teacher for a five-year period based on the results from single year or multiyear appraisals...

This statement is further clarified with the following:

The commissioner shall establish performance and validity standards for each local optional teacher designation system.

So, in essence, a local school district will determine the three designations based on whatever teacher evaluation system they're using; however, the commissioner will provide districts with the "performance and validity standards" that they must use to make those determinations.


These "standards" come with two limitations:

1) They must provide a "mathematical possibility" for all teachers to earn a designation.

2) The state "may not require districts" to use STAAR data to evaluate teacher performance.


Note: "may not require districts" is a very different phrase than "districts may not use." While the state will not be able to establish performance standards for these designations that include STAAR data, districts will have that option on the table.


All of this language is very nebulous, and we will not get any clarity on this until at least October 3, which is the date TEA will address the Teacher Incentive Allotment via their HB3 in 30 video series.


However, at the very least, we know this: the commissioner will have a great deal of influence over the criteria that teachers must meet via their local evaluations in order to receive one of the three designations.


Speaking of the commissioner, that brings up the other fuzzy area...


2) The term "validity standards" could open the door for a forced distribution of the three designations.


The commissioner establishing "performance" standards is pretty clear cut: master teachers need X average on evaluations, exemplary Y average, etc.


However, the commissioner establishing "validity" standards is much less clear.


What exactly is he validating?


The obvious answer would be that he's validating whether or not a district is potentially inflating their average evaluation scores in order to bring in more money. (And no doubt, this will be a legitimate concern.)


But how does one validate something like teacher evaluations?


One option: treat it kind of like TELPAS and do random audits where districts are required to submit evaluation records for teachers that received one of the three designations.


The issue here would be the obvious lack of visual evidence needed to truly validate an evaluation.


I guess you could require districts to submit videos of teacher evaluations, but...


...well, you know.


That's not going to happen.


So, then that leaves us with another option that is MUCH easier to implement: limit the percentage of teachers any single district can designate within each of the three categories.


I would not be shocked if October rolls around, and we get something from the commissioner that indicates that a district may designate a maximum of 5% of their teachers as master teachers, 10% as exemplary, and 25% as recognized.


And considering that a large part of this Teacher Incentive Allotment is mimicked off of Dallas ISD's TEI system---a system that utilizes a forced distribution system, one of its most criticized features---such a system would seem like a natural move.


Also, it kind of makes sense to limit the number of teachers within each designation because without a limit, you're basically committing the state to an ENORMOUS amount of money if districts across the state suddenly reported large numbers of master teachers, each bringing in a minimum of $12,000 to the district for salaries.


While this would be incredible, for obvious reasons, it is unsustainable; therefore, limits will happen. They must happen in order for this allotment to exist beyond the current biennium.

There is one line in HB3 that kind of throws everything out of whack:

...a classroom teacher that holds a National Board Certification issued by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards may be designated as recognized.

So, if a teacher holds a National Board Certification, at a minimum, they're looking at $3,000 more each year. If they're in a rural or high poverty district, they could be looking at quite a bit more.


If I were a classroom teacher, I would sincerely consider investing my time and energy (and $550) into obtaining a National Board Certification.


The potential return on investment is pretty solid.


(Note to district administrators or board members that may be reading this: you might want to consider encouraging (via incentives) your teachers to pursue this route. A reimbursement program for National Board Certifications could prove to be very valuable in the coming years.)

In the end, the Teacher Incentive Allotment is going to be good for teachers.


Will it bring $100,000 to every teacher?


No. Not even close.


But it will bring additional money into the system in a way that directly supports teacher compensation.


Yes, there are still questions that need to be answered. However, this is a very interesting part of HB3 that everyone should keep their eye on.

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