Brownback, Democrat spar over merit pay for Kansas teachers

By John Hanna, Associated Press | Posted - Jan. 14, 2016 at 7:11 p.m.



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TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Republican Gov. Sam Brownback said Thursday that a top Democrat in Kansas is too quick to dismiss the idea of using a new education funding formula to encourage local school districts to impose merit pay for their teachers.

Brownback responded to comments from Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, who said merit pay systems are marked by favoritism. Hensley, a Topeka Democrat, is also a teacher.

Their public debate over merit pay came after Hensley said the GOP-dominated Legislature should pass a new school funding law this year. Also, a bill designating Cowley County in south-central Kansas as the stone bridge capital of the state became the first measure this year to clear the Legislature and go to Brownback's desk. Here's a look at legislative developments Thursday.

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MERIT PAY DEBATE

Hensley made his comments about merit pay for teachers during a news conference in which Democrats outlined the general principles that will guide their work during this year's legislative session. Their principles included seeing that the state makes its public schools a priority and working to retain teachers.

"I'm opposed to merit pay because what it in essence does is insert politics in our public school pay structure," Hensley said. "Those that, I guess you might say, brown-nose are the ones that are going to end up receiving the merit pay."

Brownback acknowledged that questions about favoritism come with merit pay systems, but told The Associated Press that legislators ought to study examples of what's worked well and "let's try to learn."

As for Hensley, the governor said, "I think he's dismissing the idea way too soon."

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SCHOOL FINANCE

Hensley said legislators should pass a new formula this year for distributing more than $4 billion in state aid to Kansas' 286 local school districts. He also said lawmakers should work with school superintendents.

Republicans last year junked the state's old, per-pupil formula in favor of "block grants" for districts. They viewed the old formula as too complicated and argued that it didn't direct enough state dollars into classrooms.

But Democrats and many educators don't like last year's law because it doesn't automatically adjust a district's funding when it has more students or more students have special needs.

Top Republicans meant the new law to be temporary and set it to expire in July 2017.

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LEGISLATIVE MILESTONE

The bill honoring Cowley County as the state's stone bridge capital cleared the Legislature when the House approved it Thursday on a 118-1 vote.

The measure now heads to Brownback's desk because the Senate passed it unanimously last year.

Asked whether he would sign the measure, the governor smiled and said, "Well, I have not reviewed the bill yet, but I think that I probably could, yes."

The bill says Cowley County in south-central Kansas is home to 18 stone arch bridges built before 1910, and all but one still carry traffic daily.

The only vote against the measure came from Republican Rep. Craig McPherson of Overland Park. He said he prefers not to clutter up the state statutes with items that can be handled in legislative resolutions.

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Online:

Kansas Legislature: http://www.kslegislature.org

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Follow John Hanna on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apjdhanna .

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

John Hanna

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