Denver Voters Approve Merit Pay for Teachers

Published December 1, 2005

Denver voters easily approved a $25 million property tax increase to fund a new merit-pay program, known as the Professional Compensation System for Teachers (ProComp), in Colorado’s statewide elections November 1. Measure 3A passed by 58 percent after six years of program development.

As reported in the November issue of School Reform News, ProComp ends the standard policy of increasing teachers’ salaries primarily based on their seniority and education, and instead gives raises to teachers who sharpen their skills, increase student achievement, or agree to work in the city’s toughest schools. Teachers’ raises will be based solely on performance, with occasional cost-of-living adjustments.

The program is set to begin in January 2006. Current teachers began enrolling November 7 and have seven years to decide whether they want to opt in. New teachers hired after January 1 will be enrolled automatically.

“Denver took an encouraging step away from just paying teachers for years in the classroom and degrees on the wall,” said Ben DeGrow, a policy analyst at the Independence Institute’s Education Policy Center in Golden. “But the next city school district to pursue compensation reform should give less money for completing certificates and projects, and offer greater rewards for making a positive difference in student learning.”

Increasingly Expensive

School districts nationwide were watching the debate over ProComp, which the National Education Association (NEA) opposed because it’s a merit-pay plan and, as NEA President Reg Weaver told the Rocky Mountain News before the vote, there is little proof it will raise teachers’ skills and students’ performance.

Denver Public Schools (DPS) currently spends $200 million a year on teachers’ salaries. ProComp will cost about $10 million in 2006, DPS Senior Policy Advisor Brad Jupp told the Denver Post on November 3. ProComp gradually will become more expensive as more teachers enroll. Teachers will be able to continue getting raises until retirement, instead of topping out the pay scale at $50,000 to $55,000 a year. A trust board of teachers, community members, and district officials will monitor its annual costs.

In exit polls, voters seemed confident about ProComp.

“I think education is so important, and anything that takes away from that is sad and scary,” Bryann Brickell, a 30-year-old construction worker who voted for 3A, told the Rocky Mountain News. “I think it’s very important for our future to ensure we have the best people.”

Karla Dial ([email protected]) is managing editor of School Reform News.

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