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Salary Comparability: Coming to an ESEA Bill Near You?

Rep. Chaka Fattah, D-Pa., who has made school finance a signature issue during his time in Congress, thinks that salary comparability is an idea whose time has come. And he says he has support from leaders on the House Education and Labor Committee, to include it the upcoming reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

What exactly is salary comparability? Well, in a nutshell, it's a way of assuring that Title I schools with a large number of newer, lower-salaried teachers get their fair share of federal funding. Right now, districts don't have to count teachers' actual salaries in doling out local funds equally, which among the preconditions for tapping Title I funds for disadvantaged students. Districts just have to make sure all teachers are on the same pay scale. Salary comparability advocates say that effectively penalizes high-poverty schools with lots of young, novice teachers.

The last time Congress tried to reauthorize ESEA, salary comparability was far from a slam dunk. In fact, it was on a (pretty long) list of issues that doomed the first attempt by Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., the chairman of the education committee, to renew the law, back in 2007.

But the ground may have shifted in the past few years. Fattah's bill is backed not only by long-time, prominent proponents of the issue, such as the Education Trust, but also one-time detractors, including the National Education Association. Back in 2007, the union was worried that the language could require teachers to transfer against their will, but they say that concern has been assuaged. (For more on this issue, and NEA's support for the bill, check out this blog item by Edweek's resident salary comparability expert: Steve Sawchuk of Teacher Beat fame.)

"The common sense [on the issue] has broken through," Fattah told me an interview. Fattah said he'd spoken to Miller about the issue and expected the language to be included in a reauthorization proposal.

Unless something miraculous happens, we probably won't see a full-fledged ESEA bill released in either chamber this year, much less signed into law. Still, key staff members from both parties are meeting regularly and trying to pinpoint areas of bipartisan agreement. The discussions could lay the groundwork for moving a renewal bill next year, no matter who is control of Congress.

Fattah is hoping that the bill will even the playing field for the nation's poorest children, who frequently are given the fewest resources, he said.

"Poor children receive the least of everything we know they need to get an education," he said.

Fattah was also a lead sponsor of legislation to create a commission on fiscal equity. He's hoping the panel will propose solutions to help ensure that poor kids are given their fair share of resources.

The commission needn't "recite the problem" of a lack of fiscal equity, Fattah said. But it should help devise "some consensus around the need for us to actually do something about this problem."

Fattah is running for chairman (or top Democrat, depending on the results of the midterms) of the House Appropriations Committee, replacing Rep. David Obey, who is retiring this year. Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington is also running for the post.

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