Bonuses for Teachers in Low-Income Schools Advances on Tight Vote

Teachers at low-income schools could soon receive a bonus under legislation that narrowly passed the House Education Committee on a 6-4 vote Wednesday.

HB 212 – Incentive for Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools, sponsored by Representative Mike Winder (Republican – West Valley City), creates the Effective Teachers in High Poverty Schools Incentive Program. The pilot program would dole out $5,000 bonuses to teachers whose classes show improvement in standardized test scores. Eligible teachers are to be determined using the median growth percentile (MGP). According to the fiscal note, a yearly appropriation from the Education Fund of $392,000 would be required. The original bill called for nearly $672,000 per year, but lawmakers later substituted it to assuage cost concerns.

Winder believes the prospect of a bonus could motivate teachers to do better. “Unlike school grading, which is based on proficiency, this is based on growth. There’s opportunities for the teacher’s efforts to really be rewarded here. If one teacher gets it, the neighboring teacher would likely say ‘Wow, what are you doing in your classroom so that I too might reach for this bonus next year?’ I think that the power of injecting some rock star teachers in some of these high poverty schools would be like yeast in bread that could raise and lift all around,” said Winder.

Although there were questions as to the likelihood of HB 212 being funded, it is worth noting that Senator Lyle Hillyard (Republican – Logan) is the bill’s Senate sponsor. Hillyard co-chairs the Public Education Appropriations Subcommittee. In addition, 21 lawmakers have agreed to be co-sponsors. “Let’s keep this alive today and see where it is by the end of the session,” said Winder.

Weber State University education professor Forrest Crawford says the bonuses could serve as a nice incentive and also encourage highly-trained teachers to work in more diverse school settings. “One of the challenges that we have, in my judgment, in Utah is that imbalance between the growth in the diversity of students that we have in the classroom and the subsequent imbalance of highly-qualified teachers that are non-minority,” said Crawford. “The average teacher that is well-trained, it’s likely that their classes are going to be more diverse than the actual trained students that are in school systems in Utah.”

Michael Parker, director of public policy for the Salt Lake Chamber, said HB 212 is in line with the Prosperity 2020 plan. “As many of you know, in 2009 the business community launched Prosperity 2020 as a call to action to improve educational outcomes in Utah. We focused on three things: innovation, accountability, and investment. We believe that this bill addresses all three. As we know, our state is leading out on solving intergenerational problems as well. We think this bill is an added tool in the toolbox to addressing those issues,” said Parker.

Dr. Sara Jones, Director of Education Excellence at the Utah Education Association, questioned the effectiveness of judging teachers based on the MGP. “SAGE is given on one day of the year, and all the variability that implies if there are computer glitches that day or if the student is just not performing very well that day because they’re having a bad day or students acting out,” said Jones. She also pointed at the fact that many single-subject teachers will be excluded since their classes don’t have annual testing. “About 70 percent of secondary teachers don’t teach a tested subject. They wouldn’t be eligible.”

Representative Kim Coleman (Republican – West Jordan) feels “It’s tragic to me that we want to keep messaging ‘No one wants to teach you. Our best teachers don’t want to teach you.’ I think that’s awful. We make some assumptions about low-income. We make some assumptions about low-income, and my family was there not too long ago. I think those assumptions are tragic,” said Coleman. “The mechanisms are wrong. The assumptions are wrong. We do need to address the needs of these schools. I don’t believe this is the way to it.”

“I think we’re making this bigger than what it is. This is just an attempt to equal the playing field a little bit for these [high] poverty schools. It could be the wave of the future,” said Representative Derrin Owens (Republican – Fountain Green). “There are differences in teachers, and they do make a difference. They’re not all equal. You can make a difference, even if it’s not financial. You get that superstar/rock star teacher, they do make a difference and pull the rest of the staff. I think they should be rewarded for that.”

HB 212 now heads to the full House for its consideration.

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