House backs $5k bonuses to draw top teachers to low-income schools

First Published      Last Updated Feb 28 2017 01:22 pm

Bill excludes educators whose students don’t take standardized tests, says retired teacher.

The Utah House took a step Monday to a create a pilot program to offer a $5,000 bonus to help recruit and keep effective teachers at low-income schools.

Members passed HB212 on a 51-23 vote, and sent it to the Senate.

Sponsored by Rep. Mike Winder, R-West Valley City, HB212 relies on a metric called median growth percentile, or MGP, to identify teachers who show high levels of student growth on standardized tests.

Roughly 5 percent of Utah teachers would be eligible — described as Utah's "rock stars" by Winder — with bonuses awarded if those teachers remain at or transfer to one of the state's 100 most economically impacted campuses.

Winder's bill, as amended, requires participating school districts to match the program's state funding, which would cut the measure's initial state price tag from roughly $900,000 to $365,000.

Winder said many low-income schools are seeing an exodus of teachers, and said Granger Elementary in his city lost 50 percent of its teachers last year. "We need to provide an incentive for highly effective teachers to stay and be attracted to those schools."

But Rep. Marie Poulson, D-Cottonwood Heights, a retired teacher, said a problem with the bill is it excludes teachers whose students do not take standardized tests — such as in grades 1 through 3.

It also excludes secondary school teachers whose subjects are not included in annual testing, like art, history or social studies.

Rep. Joel Briscoe, D-Salt Lake City, another retired teacher, said when he has seen schools turn around, it was changing the "entire culture of the school. It wasn't bringing in one or two rock stars."

"Will it succeed? I don't know. I think we should give it a chance," said Rep. Bruce Cutler, R-Murray.

Winder said the bill covers enough teachers to be an effective pilot program to see if bonuses may be effective, and could be expanded later to include others.

"At the end of the day it's about the kids," Winder said. "For some of these kids in these tough situations, their teacher is their last best hope."