Ehrlich Outlines Plan to Pursue Merit Pay for Teachers if Reelected

By John Wagner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. sought yesterday to reignite a debate over merit pay for public school teachers, pledging to seek funding from the General Assembly to compensate "teachers who excel in the classroom" if reelected this fall.

Ehrlich (R), in an address to the Maryland State Board of Education, said he would include $800,000 in his fiscal 2008 budget proposal to cover planning costs of a Quality Compensation Initiative that he hopes to launch the following year.

"Merit pay is obviously something that has been very controversial around the country," Ehrlich acknowledged to the board, calling his plan "a step in that direction."

Ehrlich and his aides provided few details yesterday about the scope of the proposed program, saying much remains to be worked out. Ehrlich said he would leave it to local jurisdictions to decide whether to participate.

A spokesman for the governor later said that funding would supplement existing teacher pay, which is based largely on education and experience level.

The plan is likely to draw opposition, including from the influential Maryland State Teachers Association, the largest educators lobby in the state. "We support adequate pay for everyone and not special pay for some," Clara Floyd, the group's president, said yesterday. "That's our very strong position."

Another proposal floated by Ehrlich at the board meeting -- to spend $1.6 million on a "leadership academy" for new and aspiring principals -- was more warmly received by educators and adversaries.

Ehrlich shared his plans on the same day that his Democratic challenger, Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley, outlined a new set of education initiatives.

An O'Malley proposal to offer signing bonuses of $200,000 to principals hired to lead low-performing schools -- the outlines of which were reported yesterday by The Washington Post -- sparked considerable debate in education circles and on talk radio. Under the proposal, new principals at more than 200 schools could become eligible for the bonuses, which would be paid out over four years.

The majority of those schools are in Baltimore and Prince George's County.

O'Malley said that the bonuses would probably be the largest in the nation but that the cost of the program would be modest in relation to the state's overall spending on education. Aides put the annual cost of the bonuses at $5 million to $10 million.

Asked by reporters about Ehrlich's merit pay proposal, O'Malley said he believes that the state should focus on ensuring that teacher salaries and benefits, including pensions, are competitive.

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