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Utah Bill Would Offer Some Teachers in High Poverty Schools $5,000 Bonuses

In a bid to keep high-performing teachers at high poverty schools, Utah lawmakers have sent a bill to the governor that would give high flyers at economically challenged schools $5,000 annual bonuses.

Around the country, school administrators often struggle to attract teachers, particularly veteran educators, to schools that enroll large numbers of poor students. Often, higher salaries and better working conditions draw these educators to wealthier schools. That means poor schools usually have much higher teacher turnover rates and are much more likely to be staffed by novice educators.

"It's a huge disparity," state Representative Mike Winder, a Republican from suburban Salt Lake County and the sponsor of the bill, told The Salt Lake City Tribune. "And we, as a state, have a statutory duty to step in."

This bill defines a high-poverty school as one where either 70 percent or more of students qualify for free or reduced-price lunches or where at least 20 percent of students are classified by the state as affected by intergenerational poverty. The bill would reward educators in those schools based on a measure of year-to-year student growth on state standardized tests.

"It's extremely tough for a school," Amber Clayton, a principal at one of the schools where teachers would qualify, told KUTV, the CBS-affiliated in Salt Lake City. "Teachers will spend a few years here and then move on to what they may perceive as an easier school because it doesn't have the same challenges."

Under the proposed legislation, the state would foot half the bill, leaving the other half to charter schools and school districts. Lawmakers have allocated $250,000 for the program in the first year, down from the $672,000 per year originally proposed. The law lets the state board of education reduce or limit the bonuses if $250,000 won't cover the costs. That amount would only cover 100 teachers.

The bill passed the state's senate by a unanimous vote, but the margins were much closer in the state house, where both Republicans and Democrats voted against the bill. Only two of the 12 members of the house's Democratic contingent supported the bill. Those two Democrats represent portions of the Granite and Salt Lake school districts—the two districts with the most high-poverty schools.

The Utah Education Association—an affiliate of the National Education Association—opposed the bill because it defined teacher quality solely based on test scores. They were concerned that the bill would only help educators who taught subjects and grades covered by the state's standardized testing system.

"It actually fractures our teaching force when we have one educator able to receive a bonus that another wouldn't," UEA President Heidi Matthews told The Salt Lake Tribune.


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