By Ben Velderman
RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell’s new education reform plan is quite simple: He wants to give the state’s teachers a 2 percent raise and $15 million in merit-based bonuses in exchange for common sense tenure reform.
And surprisingly, the state’s teachers union isn’t rejecting the offer out-of-hand.
McDonnell has been trying for the past couple of years to tweak Virginia’s teacher tenure law. His latest attempt died in the state Senate last February.
Under McDonnell’s new proposal, beginning teachers would have to work five years – instead of the current three years – before being awarded tenure. The process for disciplining and removing teachers would also be streamlined, and a “clear” definition of teacher “incompetence” would be established, reports the DailyPress.com.
In return for those reforms, the governor has pledged to include $58.7 million in next year’s budget that would be used to give teachers their first pay raise in five years. The budget would also include $15 million for merit bonuses and $800,000 to help retain and recruit teachers for hard-to-fill subject areas, the DailyPress.com reports.
The deal faces a few obstacles. Since local school districts would have to match the state funds in order to give their teachers a raise, the proposal allows districts to opt-out of the pay-raise plan, reports the Washington Examiner.
As one teacher told the Daily Press, “A pay increase would be wonderful but if our district can’t match the funds, then there will still be no raise.”
Also, McDonnell’s “clear” definition of teacher incompetence would include “one or more unsatisfactory performance evaluations,” among other criteria. It seems likely that some union leaders and their political surrogates in the state legislature will bristle at such a specific definition.
But McDonnell seems prepared to push hard to get this deal done, calling the measure “an important reform.”
Virginia Education Association President Meg Gruber told the Daily Press that she’s “cautiously optimistic” about the governor’s proposal.
“We need to see what the specifics say,” Gruber said. “Until we have the opportunity to sit and read like all good teachers and do our homework, we’ll wait and see.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s not a resounding “no” either, which is encouraging.
A straight-up “money for reform” deal seems an unlikely recipe for success, but who knows?
It’s so simple and direct, it might just work.