A legislative proposal to earmark about $50 million of school funding for teacher merit pay is being opposed by the Kansas Association of School Boards and the KNEA teacher union.  Their longstanding objection to rewarding effective teachers isn’t news, but their logic is always entertaining.

KASB and KNEA fervently believe that spending more money improves student achievement.  (It doesn’t, of course, but let’s not go there yet.) But if less than 1% of that money is earmarked to reward the most important people in the system, KASB says the ‘system’ will suffer and achievement won’t improve.

This comes from the same people who last week tried to claim the state assessment result doesn’t identify performance at grade level.  Senate Education Chair Molly Baumgardner called them out on that doozy and House K-12 Budget Chair Kristey Williams wouldn’t accept their circular logic on merit pay.

As reported by the Kansas Reflector, Williams told KASB spokesperson Mark Tallman that letting schools spend money however they want hasn’t worked out for students.

“We can’t just keep doing the same thing that we’ve always done, and we can’t not expect achievement gains, and we can’t not incentivize or reward achievement gains.”

To Williams’ point, spending this year is estimated to be $16,686 per student, which is almost $6,000 per student above long-term inflation.  But at the same time, reading proficiency on the National Assessment of Educational Progress declined a bit, with only a third of students proficient.  This bumpy-to-flat NAEP achievement pre-dates the pandemic, so it cannot be explained away as COVID learning loss.

Achievement is also persistently low on the ACT and the state assessment test.  Only 21% of Kansas graduates who took the ACT last year were college-ready in English, Reading, Math, and Science.  The state assessment shows Kansas has more high school students below grade level than are on track for college and career.

Even in Johnson County, which is thought to have the best schools, a third of high school kids are below grade level in math even fewer are on track.

Merit pay works in Florida

Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush credits the state’s bonus system for part of their big gains in student achievement.  Florida grades schools A through F based on student achievement results to incentivize the action they want.

“Even school that is an ‘A’ or (improves a letter grade) gets $100 per student wire transferred to the school – no cut for the bureaucracy – and there are celebrations when schools have this kind of success.  Ninety percent of that money goes in the form of bonuses to teachers.”

Rep. Williams introduced the merit pay idea in HB 2690; her plan has a different methodology but the goal is the same.

Kansas Policy Institute, which owns The Sentinel, was the only proponent of HB 2690, and media went out of its way to signal that that must be a bad thing.  The Kansas Reflector, which most often sides with government players like KASB and KNEA, falsely portrayed KPI’s position on education, calling KPI, “a longstanding adversary of public school funding.”

That’s not true, of course.  Kansas Policy Institute is a longstanding advocate for improving public education and that calls balls and strikes on the absence of any relationship between student achievement and the amount of money spent.  And that doesn’t sit well with KASB, KNEA, and their friends.

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