To listen to the Show Me Today interview with Missouri Board of Education President Charlie Shields, click below.

There’s a push going on across the country, including in Missouri, to pay K-12 public school teachers based upon performance. The legislature’s top two Republicans – State Senate President Pro Tem Caleb Rowden and House Speaker Dean Plocher – talked about the pay model during the first days of this legislative session.

The push comes after the Missouri Legislature funded grants in the current state budget year to help districts who want to raise teacher pay. Missouri’s K-12 public school teachers are one of the lowest paid in the nation, if not the lowest.

Missouri Board of Education President Charlie Shields, of St. Joseph, said public employees cannot currently be paid different rates for the same work. He said making the switch would require two things – a change in state statute and to the Missouri Constitution.

“For public employees in the state, whether the state or political subdivisions, like school districts, you can’t have different pay rates for people doing the same work. So you have to change the constitution to do that,” said Shields. “If you want to do performance pay, if you want to do merit pay, if you want to do bonuses and things like that, for high-performing educators, you’re going to have to make a change the constitution first.”

To change the state Constitution, the legislature would be required to pass a proposed Constitutional amendment and then Missouri voters would have to approve of the switch.

“Can you do performance pay? Can you do merit pay? Can you do bonuses? And even more so, can you do differential pay for those areas of education that are just hard to recruit? For example, if you can’t find physics teachers, should you pay more for a physics teacher than other teachers up and down the salary schedule? To do all that part of it, you’re going to have to have a change in the Constitution,” he said.

Shields said districts are allowed to give stipends and use a state matching grant program, known as Career Ladder, for teachers who do extra work.

He said he would be encouraged if the Legislature put the measure before voters.

“This is not either or. I think we need to pay teachers better up and down the salary schedule and that was one of the recommendations of the Blue Ribbon Commission – raise minimum salaries but create a separate fund to begin to pay all teachers more. I think when it comes to performance pay, the key is going to be how you implement it and how you design it. I think there’s a way to design performance pay, that can be fair and not subjective but objective,” said Shields. “I don’t think it’s that hard to create. Frankly, the private sector has been doing it for years. I’m really encouraged that there’s so much focus on this notion that, ‘We’ve got to figure out how to get more people into education, we’ve got to value educators, keep them in the classroom so that at the end of the day, if you are going to have great student achievement, it starts by having a great qualified teacher in the front of every classroom.”

Missouri has about 71,000 pre-K through 12 public school teachers.

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