A Merit Pay Plan for Michigan Public School Educators

In the sections below, we describe a pilot program to institute merit pay in an interested Michigan school district (or districts). The resulting proposal can be implemented without changes to state law.

Before proceeding, however, we want to address briefly a misconception that has arisen among some in the education community about the constitutionality of merit pay. Article 11, Section 6, of the Michigan Constitution includes a passage stating, "[U]nless otherwise provided by charter, each county, township, city, village, school district and other governmental unit or authority may establish, modify or discontinue a merit system for its employees other than teachers under contract or tenure" (emphasis added).[33] This provision does not prohibit merit pay in schools; the "merit system" mentioned here refers to a civil service system, not pay-for-performance. A review of the constitutional convention deliberations renders this point beyond dispute.[34] While someone might try to use Article 11, Section 6, to mount a lawsuit against a merit-pay program, the effort would be devoid of legal substance and should be dismissed quickly.[*]

The real issues facing any district willing to try a pilot merit-pay program are practical: determining the features of the plan; complying with state laws and local bargaining agreements; and obtaining the support of the local teachers union. Below, we deal first with the outline of the plan. Later, we discuss two larger policy questions: Who should pay for a pilot merit-pay program, and where should the program be tried?

[*]Readers interested in an extended discussion of this issue should see Patrick J. Wright’s discussion in Holley, A Teacher Quality Primer.