Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely

Kyrene Superintendent Jan Vesely

AzMERIT scores at 10 schools were responsible for a $1.2-million bonus for Kyrene School District under Arizona’s results-based funding program.

Of those schools, six are in Ahwatukee and accounted for a total $797,000 of the money the district received.

Although scores at 10 of Kyrene’s 25 schools qualified for the bonuses, Superintendent Jan Vesely said the money will be spread across all district schools and used as bonuses for teachers who do extra work on their own time, such as develop a new program.

But that’s where one of the two controversies involving the bonus program begins. The other controversy involves the way the state ends up distributing the funds.

Vesely conceded that some teachers at those schools that qualified for the bonuses feel they’ve already earned some extra pay. But Vesely said school superintendents felt a more equitable approach – and one that would encourage teacher development – would be to spread the money throughout the district.

The bonuses are based on a complex formula that requires higher-income schools to have an overall passing rate of 67.5 percent on AzMERIT and low-income schools to have 44.25 percent of their student body pass the performance test.

High-performing schools in high-income areas get a bonus of $225 per student while $400 per student is awarded to high performing schools in lower-income areas.

The Ahwatukee schools and the bonuses they earned are: Altadena Middle School, $241,888; Estrella Elementary, $98,080; Sierra Elementary, $115,780; Cerritos Elementary, $109,224; Lagos Elementary, $95,618; and Monte Vista Elementary, $136,526.

Four schools in Chandler also qualified: Brisas, Cielo, Kyrene Traditional Academy and Mirada.

Only schools in the top 10 percent of AzMERIT scores qualify for the bonus.

For those who might wonder why the other 15 Kyrene schools didn’t qualify for bonuses, consider this: Only 193 public elementary and middle schools out of about 2,000 public elementary and middle schools met the guidelines for bonuses at all, according to an analysis by Children’s Action Alliance. Also qualifying were 105 charter schools.

Of the qualifying schools, 79 public and 28 charter schools got a bonus of $400 per student because they are located in neighborhoods where at least 60 percent of all students qualify for federally subsidized free or reduced-price lunches.

The $225-per-student bonus went to 114 public and 77 charter schools of the highest performing schools located in areas where less than 60 percent of all students qualify for the free or reduced lunch program.

And that’s where the broader controversy comes in.

When Gov. Doug Ducey and the State Legislature adopted the $39-million bonus program in 2017, they said it would expand access to high-quality education for all students throughout Arizona.

Ducey also said it would help lower-income students to close the achievement gap.

But critics say most of the money ends up going to schools in higher-income areas.

The Children’s Action Alliance’s analysis showed that two-thirds of the pot of bonus money went to high-income schools and 24 percent went to charter schools – the latter more than twice the percent of public schools that qualified for the bonuses.

Looking at the combined charter and public school beneficiaries of the bonuses, the alliance found that 74 percent of all students attend schools in high-income neighborhoods.

“Nothing in the initiative expanded access to high quality schools or required any expansion of the schools getting the bonus,” the alliance complained, adding:

“The initiative leaves less funding available to strengthen education in all the other schools with AzMERIT scores below the top 10 percent.”

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