News Story

Scofflaw School Districts Ignore Merit Pay Law, Face No Sanctions

State Education Department: We have no authority to enforce this

Throughout the state of Michigan, public school districts are ignoring a 2010 law that mandates they provide merit pay to teachers.

Although many districts admit they have no such policy, there appear to be no legal consequences for violating the law.

Plymouth-Canton Community Schools became the latest district to admit it doesn’t offer its teachers merit pay despite a law that requires it. The law, signed by then-Gov. Jennifer Granholm, says districts must include job accomplishments as “a significant factor” in teacher compensation.

Plymouth-Canton joins school districts in Lansing, Grand Rapids, Waterford and Walled Lake, among others, which do not offer merit pay to teachers.

Currently, the school districts suffer no penalty for violating the law.

Bill DiSessa, a spokesman for the Michigan Department of Education, said it only has the authority to take action against noncompliant school districts if it is spelled out in the law.

“Unless a section of state law specifically applies to a consequence or penalty for noncompliance by a school district, the department has no authority to act on its own or begin legal action against a school district or school board,” DiSessa said in an email.

Gary Naeyaert, executive director of Great Lakes Education Project, questioned if the department would move on noncompliant districts even if given the authority.

“How far are they willing to go to communicate the law, let alone enforce it?” Naeyaert asked. “They do have the bully pulpit. They could notify schools they are violating the law.”

“If the Department of Education doesn’t have authority to enforce the law regarding education, who does?” Naeyaert said. “If what they need is more authority, maybe we should provide that to them through the Legislature.”

State Rep. Tim Kelly, R-Saginaw Township, said he wants to look into sanctions for districts with no merit pay system, but would not use districts’ per-pupil foundation allowance to do so. Kelly said he’d look at “other, unidentified, line items of support.”

“I don't want to penalize the kids,” Kelly said in an email.

The state law on merit pay does not prescribe sanctions for noncompliant school districts.

Other education laws do prescribe sanctions, however.

For example, school districts must follow the law on how they count their enrollment or risk losing state aid. And districts that violate provisions of a law governing cross-district public school enrollment can forfeit 5 percent of their total state aid.

“That’s the kind of language that should be added to the merit pay law if the state actually wants districts to take it seriously,” said Michael Van Beek, director of research at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy.

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.