If there is a school district that epitomizes the challenges of public education in Utah, it may be Jordan.

A decade ago, the district covered the southern third of Salt Lake County, bringing in both the mature and more tax-producing east side to help with school costs on the blossoming, family-fueled west side. But then the east siders walked in 2009, and Jordan was left to absorb its growing school population with a tax base that is mostly bedrooms. In a state of low school spending, Jordan is one of the lowest.

Yet, that hasn’t stopped Jordan from investing in its most important asset, teachers.

The district this week announced another round of raises as it opens contract negotiations with the Jordan Education Association, which represents teachers. The district’s proposal gives every teacher a $2,500 raise, and new teachers would start at $42,800 instead of $40,000. It also sets aside money for grants for teacher-led initiatives.

Despite our last-in-the-nation per-pupil spending, growth in the economy has allowed Utah to pay its teachers better. Jordan even started a salary “war” of sorts last year when it raised starting salaries to $40,000. Other districts made similar moves. That $40,000 is not Easy Street, but it helps to justify four years of college.

The rising pay provides a contrast to other states with low spending. Our teachers may not make any more than those who are in revolt in Oklahoma and Arizona, but the upward trend appears to keep them from taking to the streets.

Jordan’s proposal is also about de-emphasizing the experience-based compensation model, and that is where the challenge will come in contract negotiations. The across-the-board $2,500 means a higher percentage raise for the less experienced people. That is intended to address the flight of good teachers who leave after a few years for better paying jobs outside education. The money put into grants is also aimed at paying productive teachers more, regardless of their years of service.

Teachers need more merit pay, and Jordan is doing the right thing. It’s about making teaching into a more rewarding pursuit that provides not just economic opportunity but also professional growth.

The Jordan School Board doesn’t have a lot to spread around. They are wise to spend it on quality.