TOPEKA — Rep. Kristey Williams dueled Tuesday with school board lobbyist Mark Tallman over her proposal to create a bonus pay system for teachers by redirecting money earmarked for schools with high concentrations of low-income families.
House Bill 2690 would reward teachers in schools where students show 5% gains in standardized tests over the previous four years, or maintain a 90% level of proficiency. The $5,000 bonuses — or $2,500 for marginal student progress — would begin in the 2025-26 school year.
Funding for the merit pay program would come from a $50 million annual boost intended to raise the performance of at-risk students. That funding source is set to expire in 2024, which would leave a one-year gap in funding for public schools.
The Kansas Policy Institute, a longstanding adversary of public school funding, was the only supporter of the bill. Opponents include the Kansas Association of School Boards, which Tallman represents, as well as the teachers union, a coalition of public school advocates, the Kansas State Board of Education, and the Kansas PTA.
Williams, a Republican from Augusta and chairwoman of the House K-12 Education Budget Committee, said the funding for at-risk students is supposed to drive achievement. Without those gains, the money is “lost,” she said.
“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,” Williams said.
She asked Tallman: “What do you think incentivizes schools to increase proficiency?”
Tallman said he doesn’t know a school board or teacher that isn’t concerned about achievement gains.
He offered a historical perspective: When resources for Kansas public schools have increased, districts have used those funds to improve educational outcomes. When resources declined from 2009-2017, he said, achievement measures fell.
Lawmakers in 2018 adopted a plan to increase spending for public schools over a five-year period to restore funding to 2009 levels, adjusted for inflation. Progress was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, Tallman said.
Williams claimed that funding actually increased during the timespan Tallman referenced — a claim based on KPI’s strategy to conflate spending levels before Gov. Sam Brownback’s administration with spending levels plus contributions to the state employee retirement fund.
Tallman said the districts that have the biggest needs would see the biggest loss under Williams’ plan, including eight districts that would lose $300 per pupil. Another 27 districts would lose between $200 and $300 per pupil.
“If the answer to better student performance is just better teachers or better teaching, why is low performance so disproportionately focused on lower-income families and schools with high percentage of these kids?” Tallman said. “It seems to us because these kids bring so many other factors to school that teaching alone cannot overcome.”
By converting at-risk money into incentives for teachers, Tallman said, the Legislature would impose a single strategy for improving education outcomes.
“If you take those dollars away, then that teacher may be able to get a bonus, but there would be fewer aides or assistants, or one-on-one or summer school programs,” Tallman said.
Rep. Susan Estes, a Republican from Wichita, said she was disappointed the school boards that Tallman represents have not used funding increases to pay teachers what they deserve.
“It’s hard to do your job well when you’re worrying about paying your bills,” Estes said. “We have teachers who qualify for free and reduced lunches — and that’s shameful.”
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