News Story

Under new Michigan law, schools can value seniority over quality

For a decade, merit pay policies were beyond collective bargaining negotiations. That changes with Public Act 115 of 2023.

Recently, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer signed into law a bill allowing Michigan public schools to do away with merit pay and to include payment methods and evaluation systems in the bargaining agreements they reach with teachers unions.

Merit pay systems allow a school district to pay teachers according to their performance. The teacher who performs well and teaches students effectively is likely to be rewarded with higher pay. The teacher who consistently underperforms is dismissed.

Read it for yourself: Public Act 115 of 2023

Teachers unions oppose merit pay systems, so the new law likely means teachers across Michigan will be placed in a seniority-based system, where years of service determine compensation.

The decision to allow bargaining over merit pay was split down party lines, with a 56-53 vote in the House and a 20-17 vote in the Senate. Only Republicans opposed the proposition, and only Democrats supported it.

Supporters of this bill claim it will give teachers more power in the workplace.

“The restoration of educator bargaining rights will serve to build an even stronger profession for current and future educators which, in turn, will benefit our students and communities,” said Chandra Madafferi, president of the Michigan Education Association.

Critics of the bill, such as Michigan House Republican Leader Matt Hall, claim that the law harms teachers and unnecessarily gives organized labor more control.

“Now they’re giving union bosses free rein to lord over the most important decisions at our schools,” Hall said in a statement on the bill. “Teacher placement, performance evaluations, and communication with parents are all vital to creating an effective learning environment and fostering good working relationships with families.”

Most states allow some form of collective bargaining in public schools. Six states — Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Texas — explicitly ban it. Nine states — Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, Louisiana, Utah, Virginia, West Virginia and Wyoming — have no statewide basis for collective bargaining. Instead the decision is left to individual jurisdictions.

Michigan also stands apart with its law on seniority pay. Public Act 116, which Whitmer signed this month, includes a provision prohibiting “length of service as the sole factor in personnel decisions.”

That provision applies when school officials must decide between two otherwise equal teachers.

Ewan Hayes is a Michigan Capitol Confidential intern.

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.