News Story

New State School Super Favors Merit Pay for Teachers

Brian Whiston wants 'incentives' based on subject and location, plus higher starting salaries

Outgoing State Superintendent Michael Flanagan made headlines in 2013 when he said all teachers should make $100,000.

Incoming Superintendent Brian Whiston, who takes over July 1, said he also wants teachers to make more money, but with a caveat. He would prefer to see schools break from the current union scale system, where teacher pay is based on time on the job and a teacher's academic credentials.

“Pay should be based on what you are teaching (subject), your evaluation, years of service, education, what extras you bring to the position (extra training, certifications, experiences),” Whiston said in an email. “I would like to also look at incentives for teachers that teach in certain areas of the state. I think that teachers who do a great job (get a years or more of growth) should receive additional compensation. If that is what is meant as merit pay then yes I support it.”

Audrey Spalding, the Mackinac Center for Public Policy’s director of education policy, said it was great Whiston agrees that rock star teachers should be paid more.

“For far too long, union contracts have dictated that teacher pay in Michigan can only be based only on how long the teacher has been teaching, and his or her level of education,” Spalding said in an email. “It's time to reward top performers for taking on challenging subjects and helping students achieve breakthrough academic results."

Whiston said he was particularly concerned with starting pay levels for new teachers as low as $33,000 to $35,000.

“I am concerned that this may be too low to attract the best and brightest,” Whiston said. “I am more concerned with starting salary ... students graduating with student loans $50,000-$100,000 and make low to mid $30,000, plus trying to start a family makes it very difficult. They can make more taking on other jobs.”

Starting salaries vary by region.

A first-year teacher with a bachelor’s degree starts out making $39,251 plus benefits at the Walled Lake Consolidated Schools District, $31,582 at Benton Harbor's school district, and $41,649 in Bloomfield Hills.

According to the National Education Association, Michigan was just below the national average for starting teachers salary, at $35,901 in 2012-13 (the latest year data is available). The national average was $36,141; starting teachers in Washington, D.C. get $51,539, higher than in any state.

Tom McMillin, a former Republican state representative who is now chairman of Concerned Taxpayers of Michigan, said teacher salaries should be more market oriented.

“What does he (Whiston) want to do? Artificially prop up teachers’ starting salaries?” McMillin said. “I don’t think you can make it $50,000 and assume everyone is worth $50,000 coming in.”

McMillin said contracts between school boards and teachers unions mandate that teachers start at the bottom of the scale no matter how good they are.

“If Einstein was a great teacher, and it was market driven, there would be a lot of schools competing for him,” McMillin said. “I think he would make more than $36,000.”

Michigan Capitol Confidential is the news source produced by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Michigan Capitol Confidential reports with a free-market news perspective.