Governor Sarah Sanders touted her new Arkansas LEARNS education bill by saying it would reward good teachers with “up to $10,000 in merit pay.” Offering large merit-pay bonuses was supposed to entice teachers to get behind the Arkansas LEARNS proposal by getting them excited about a pay raise.
In reality, it might as well have said $1,000,000 bonuses, as it is pretty obvious that both amounts are equally as likely to (not) happen once you dig into the details. The Fiscal Impact Statement prepared by the Arkansas Department of Education has the following line item:
Ten million dollars sounds like a lot of money…until you start to do the math.
According to the ADE website, there are 32,666 certified teachers in Arkansas. Spreading that $10 million around evenly to all of the teachers would total $306.13 each. Of course, merit pay doesn’t work as an even split. But were talking about a scenario where only 1,000 teachers across the state could be given a full $10,000 bonus, which would then completely deplete the fund.
Representative DeAnn Vaught (R-Horatio) cited that scenario in the house committee hearing this morning. Not only did she get confirmation that $10 million was the total amount budgeted, she was also informed that bonuses would be prorated if the number of recipients exceeded funding. That means that, if too many teachers qualify for the bonus, they will get less than what they would have gotten if the account were adequately funded.
Obviously, not every teacher will be eligible for a bonus, so how many might? What would the math be if only one teacher at each school qualified for the top $10,000 amount? According to the ADE website, there are 1,056 K-12 public schools in Arkansas, so dividing the $10 million by 1,056…womp womp…is only $9,469.70.
There’s not even enough to give one full $10,000 bonus to the top performing teacher at each school in the state.
How many of the 32,666 teachers will be deemed “good” by ADE’s yet to be determined performance measure? For the sake of discussion, assume 70% are good teachers. For those 70% how much would one expect the average bonus to be, with a max level of $10,000? Assuming a normal bell curve distribution, but a bit on the low side, averaging out to a $4,000 bonus, the math works out to $91.5 million needed for the Merit Teacher Incentive Fund, each and every year. A far more pessimistic scenario assuming only 20% are good teachers, with an average bonus of $4,000, still works out to $26.1 million needed.
Funding the Merit Teacher Incentive Fund with only $10 million makes the Arkansas LEARNS teacher merit pay a complete farce. Teachers have a better chance of winning on a Cash 3 lottery ticket from the Arkansas Scholarship Lottery than of getting an actual merit-pay bonus.
Just like so many other things in the Arkansas LEARNS bill, the math falls apart when you dig into the details. Maybe that’s why the people pushing Arkansas LEARNS have been avoiding details as much as they possibly can.