Merit based teacher pay, an idea that prioritizes quality teaching and retains top educators in the profession, recently was implemented into a new Texas incentive program. Since its start in 2019, 3,977 of Texas’s top teachers were awarded raises, totaling $39.2 million under the Teacher Incentive Allotment (TIA).

The Houston Chronicle noted, “Thousands of Texas teachers across 26 public school districts—including five in the Houston area—will see some of the biggest raises of their careers this year, as the state begins rolling out a landmark program designed to keep the best educators in the classroom.”

The Texas Public Policy Foundation has supported teacher incentive pay in the past as it rewards, helps retain, and helps recruit skilled teachers for the lone star state’s schools.

The TIA program helps to combat teacher turnover, which remains a large issue in Texas. Jessica Palma, a fourth grade teacher at San Antonio’s Harmony charter school, was given a raise through the program. She told Fox News, “There’s so many teachers that are amazing and [TIA] will just give them that extra push to stay in the profession.”

This is more crucial now than ever before, as a high teacher turnover rate is plaguing Texas—turnover rate has stayed consistently around 31% for years and around one in three Texas public school teachers quit prior to teaching six years. High turnover is extremely undesirable as it reduces “productivity, revenues and remaining employee satisfaction,” and compensation has been found to be a major contributing factor in employee retention.

Low teacher compensation has also had the unfortunate effect of reducing the number of teachers from undergraduate teaching programs by 15%. To help solve this problem, TIA’s thorough evaluation systems reward teacher distinction with previously hard-to-come-by six-figure salaries—which keeps the best teachers teaching instead of leaving the classroom to find higher-paying jobs.

The TIA program also utilizes an in-depth process to recognize truly talented educators. Top teachers are identified as Recognized, Exemplary, or Master through an evaluation system taking into consideration both student performance and peer observation, along with additional factors such as student, parent, peer, and community surveys (depending on the district).

Performance-based salary places emphasis on the skill and effort of teachers as opposed to their seniority­—a distinction that prioritizes students and their education. It’s a hedge against mediocrity. Teacher performance-based pay also has been shown to conclusively improve “student achievement, teacher retention, and teacher recruitment.”

The system to evaluate teacher performance takes into consideration qualitative factors like the teacher’s ability to “consistently engage all students with relevant, meaningful learning based on their interests” and “integrate learning objectives with other disciplines, content areas, and real-world experience” along with student growth expectation calculations.

While all Texas school districts and open-enrollment charter schools are in consideration for TIA funding, the program prioritizes high-needs and rural schools. The program focuses on these schools because of historical trends such as a discrepancy in teacher pay, reductions in school funding (partially due to fewer students), and academic performance gaps between Texas rural and city public schools. Rural Texas public schools also are substantially more racially diverse than their city counterparts, so inequitable funding to rural schools has a damaging effect on Texas’s minority populations.

TPPF has supported programs that places value on teachers at rural and high-needs schools in the past and continues to, as a result of their ability to increase student outcomes and foster a positive learning environment.

TIA ultimately is for the students. With more quality teachers, the next generation of Texas will be inspired to work hard, motivated to learn, and encouraged to pursue their interests. Many adults fondly recall their favorite teacher and acknowledge the immense impact he or she had on their life—Texas is finally valuing and rewarding those very educators who most inspire and change students’ lives.