A $25 million bill to pay teachers based on performance and to welcome new hires with signing bonuses cleared the Senate Tuesday, with relatively little debate.

The real fight is expected between the way the House and Senate want to spend the money — specifically, $1 million of the one-time money.

SB281 would set aside $5 million newly hired teachers a $1,000 bonus to give Utah an extra recruiting tool during a national teaching shortage.

The bill also forwards $19 million for a one-time bonus for teachers based on performance. That money would be doled as grants to school districts forwarding merit-pay proposals to the State Office Education. Proposals would include who is eligible, how performance will be measured and whether bonuses will be given to individuals, teams and/or schools. Participants would report to lawmakers how their programs went.

The idea is to achieve merit pay for teachers, long sought by some legislators, and inform a task force expected to study performance pay in the coming months for a possible statewide plan to that affect.

SB281 represents a deal brokered with Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. and House and Senate GOP leaders to add an extra 1 percent equivalent to the state's basic per-student funding formula, the WPU, albeit in one-time money.

The bill, if the House goes along, could bring the total WPU increase this year to around 6 percent, just 1 percent shy of Huntsman's goal. The WPU is the state's basic per-student funding formula.

But it's uncertain whether the House will go along with it.

House Republicans don't like the $1 million provision to give teachers $1,500 each to defray costs of getting American Board Distinguished Teacher Certification, which looks at student test score improvements, Stephenson said. In other words, it goes along with the whole merit pay idea.

But Sen. Pat Jones, D-Cottonwood Heights, said it's quite different from the rigorous National Board of Professional Teaching Standards certification, which takes a few years to get. American Board certification takes a few months, and is still being examined for acceptance by the state.

Jones unsuccessfully attempted to let some of the $1 million also help teachers seeking national board certification. But Stephenson noted Utah already gives money for national board certification. "American board certification is based on student performance gains, and that's why we want to give it a pilot program."

Still, that provision could end up changed. Some House Republicans in a Monday caucus shared feelings similar to Jones', and House leaders set out to negotiate a change with the Senate.

A Monday leadership meeting, however, went nowhere.

"We'll probably see (the bill) again before the session is over," said Senate President John Valentine, R-Orem.

Money for teachers has been a popular venture in the past two years. Legislators last year upped the WPU 4 percent and gave teachers a $2,500 raise and a $1,000 bonus.

But this money is less popular.

The Utah Education Association wished teachers could have talked to the governor before he brokered the deal. Union bosses says the money might be better used on other needs, be it in science lab equipment or pay for classified employees.

Sen. Ross Romero, D-Salt Lake, echoed other union concerns.

"I'm also concerned we are implementing a pay difference before we have committed to study it," It goes back to the notion of studying issues before we adopt policy, because I think that is the best way to enact legislation."


E-mail: [email protected]