Q-Comp is nearly out of cash. That changes the program’s impact, effectiveness and functionally caps the policy, regardless of how you feel about the idea.
The Minnesota legislature authorized Q-Comp in 2005. The program created a pool of money available to school districts, provided they could agree with their unions on a plan with five components. Some components, like job-embedded professional development, weren’t controversial or prescriptive. Others, like performance pay and an alternative salary schedule, were and are.
According to a spring data request the Minnesota Department of Education, the pool of money is mostly spent. When the cost for all the programs approved and implemented through the 2013-14 school year are added up, of the $75.6 million dedicated to Q-Comp, only about $6.8 million will be left. It’s time to think about what comes next.
According to the Minnesota Department of Education, 60 school districts and 62 charter schools participated last year. All told, they account for about 280,000 students, served by nearly 20,000 staff. Each district operates its own program, gets $169 per pupil from the state, and is empowered to raise an additional $91 per pupil in a local levy approved by the school board, not voters.
Most teachers in participating districts get some sort of performance-based bonus, and many districts and local teachers’ unions report satisfaction with the programs they’ve negotiated locally. This structure has opened up local contracts to include topics not normally on the agenda. It is good to push those boundaries, and we should encourage more districts to push their definition of what’s negotiable. This leaves me wondering, what else can we do with this approach?
Q-Comp was created with a Pawlenty-inspired performance pay agenda in mind. Over time, many district and union teams have shifted the funding for evaluation, planning time, and the release of teachers from teaching assignments from a general fund responsibility to Q-Comp dollars, shifting the focus of that money. Others wish they could get the kind of money and local authority for other areas. Teacher evaluation and development isn’t the only lever for raising student achievement. Other approaches deserve the same chance for success.
Imagine a pool of money with a broader mandate. If a local district or union wants to expand a successful early childhood program, they should be able to do that. The same goes for programs that support partnership between families and teachers. The same goes for “grow your own” teacher recruitment and training programs. The same goes for putting a clinic in the schools.
This sort of broader innovation fund would be good for Minnesota’s children and communities. It would give communities more freedom to develop locally appropriate solutions to their particular struggles, as well as help us identify programs that should spread to other districts. If it expands the imaginations of those at local bargaining tables, that’s good, too.
The opportunities Q-Comp gives to some districts shouldn’t be denied to those whose interests lay outside teacher development or who are understandably leery of any possible link between pay and test scores. Across Minnesota, teachers are doing great things in their classrooms and leading great developments in their schools. We should be at least as encouraging of educational improvements led by teachers as we are of changes done to teachers.
Minnesota’s already made progress undoing the worst legacies of the Pawlenty years. Q-Comp is a case where we can outgrow the limited scope and agenda of a program to build new and better things. Were we to create such an innovation fund, I’d hope the districts happy with their current Q-Comp plans would stay funded. I’d also hope and expect to see those districts that have so far been hands-off towards the program bring forward new ideas.
If we wanted to get truly expansive about this, we wouldn’t even need to limit the funds to district-union proposals. If there’s a proven tutoring program that’s doing great things for kids and looking to expand, it could do that. If there’s a program that helps those currently working as education support professionals become licensed as teachers that wants to increase its impact, it could do that. If Teach For America wants to apply for that $1.5 million it was denied last session, it could do that, too.
This could also be a tool for strengthening the interconnection between the many different kinds of educators in our community. The more we can scale up programs that complement or partner with the work educators are doing, the bigger the impact everyone can have.
Unfortunately, such a fund wouldn’t be possible with the current Q-Comp appropriation, since those dollars are nearly exhausted. We cannot let ourselves be limited by the visions and aspirations of the Pawlenty era. Q-Comp has been good for some schools, but it’s not the final word in innovation. We should expand our horizons and support more of the good ideas being dreamt up in Minnesota’s schools and communities.