News Story

Snyder Calls Legislature's Penalty For No Merit Pay 'Unenforceable'

Governor still approves budget that dings scofflaw districts 5 percent

Gov. Rick Snyder says he regards as “unenforceable” a provision requiring 5 percent of state aid be withheld from a public school district that ignores a law requiring merit pay for high-performing teachers. The assertion was contained in a message accompanying the governor's approval of the school budget for the coming fiscal year.

Snyder spokeswoman Anna Heaton said the Legislature did something not allowed when it tried to enact policy by attaching conditions to a line item in an appropriations bill rather than amending the statute that govern the function it funds.

But State Rep. Tim Kelly, who was the main sponsor of the education spending bill, said Snyder acted without any kind of legal opinion. Kelly said he’s looking into asking the state attorney general to issue an opinion on Snyder’s refusal to execute the provision.

“I think he is picking out something that he doesn’t like and he’s determined that he is not going to enforce it,” said Kelly, R-Saginaw Township.

Kelly said he’s seen many appropriations bills that place conditions on spending for programs that are authorized by other statutes. “We do that all the time,” he said.

The law requiring school districts to use merit pay has been on the books since 2010, although research by Michigan Capitol Confidential has found that many school districts ignore the requirement. Twelve of the 20 largest districts violate the law by not offering any form of merit-based payment, the analysis found.

The merit pay law states that a public school district must “implement and maintain a method of compensation for its teachers and school administrators that includes job performance and job accomplishments as a significant factor in determining compensation and additional compensation.”

For example, the Lansing School District’s current union contract says nothing about merit pay. Under the provision that Snyder deems unenforceable, that failure would have cost the district some $4.5 million in state aid last year. The impact would be comparable to the district of 11,000 students collecting no state funding for around 587 students.