Teachers in St. Clair county, Michigan finished voting last Friday to approve a three-year contract based upon merit-based pay, the Detroit Free Press reported. The 42-0 vote makes St. Clair the first county in Michigan to approve merit based pay for teachers, a policy that bases teacher salary off of student test scores. It also places Michigan among just a few states that have any merit-based pay in their school system.

What makes this policy unique is that unlike in many cases, where merit-based pay comes in the form of incentive bonuses on top of salary, in the St. Clair policy, teacher evaluations are tied to base salaries and raises.

“I’m looking forward to it and most of the members are excited about it because there’s good opportunity for movement,” said Michelle Israel, a negotiator for the Michigan Education Association who helped negotiate the contract. “It’s based on how effective you are in the classroom rather than your level of education.”

The teacher evaluations are based equally upon student achievement and teachers’ effectiveness. Student achievement is quantified by individual schools, and can be measured in ways such as standardized exams, certificates or student goals. Teacher effectiveness is quantified by school-run annual evaluations.

Merit-based pay for teachers has been hotly contested among education policy analysts. Proponents of the policy say that merit-based pay will encourage teachers to work harder and draw highly effective workers to the profession. Opponents point to studies that appear to show that the promise of increased rewards does not, in fact, encourage workers to work harder.

Nevertheless, districts in several states have pushed forward with merit-based pay legislation including Louisiana, Colorado, Florida, and Minnesota. Lawmakers in these states are working on creating statewide programs, as are Oklahoma lawmakers and Georgia Gov. Sonny Purdue. "We want to reward our educators who are truly making gains with our students," Perdue told USA Today.

Tennessee and Delaware already have statewide merit-based pay programs for teachers. Largely due to these programs, both states were initial winners of the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition. Delaware received $119 million in grant money and Tennessee received $501 million. Other states hope to get their merit-based pay laws passed in time to reapply for similar federal grants.