JCPS Teachers’ Bonuses Using COVID Relief Funds Are $ 75 Million Mistake

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We have all had a difficult year, but the pain of the pandemic has not been evenly distributed across the country. Beyond those directly facing serious medical issues or death from COVID-19, American families have faced leave, layoffs and health risks associated with serving as essential workers .

As adults struggled to meet the challenges created by the pandemic, children’s lives were turned upside down on a fundamental level. School campuses have closed as children log into Zoom classrooms, with millions of marginalized students falling through the cracks.

As school systems strive to rebuild better, federal stimulus dollars should be used to fund equitable initiatives that provide more support to those most affected by the pandemic. Jefferson County public schools are expected to receive about $ 578 million from the federal government to deal with the pandemic’s impact on children.

The context: JCPS to Offer Employees Up to $ 5,000 in Bonuses as Districts Consider Downsizing

This funding could be used to equitably support students by focusing funding on those with the greatest learning needs after the pandemic. But if JCPS thinks it is following this common sense logic, it is making a $ 75 million mistake.

The JCPS Board of Directors recently approved the use of $ 75 million in education clawback funds to provide each permanent employee in the district with a bonus of $ 5,000. These payments are ostensibly aimed at ensuring that the district does not experience an employee retention crisis.

It might sound great, but there’s a big problem: There isn’t a retention issue at JCPS when it comes to the majority of their employees, the certified staff. In fact, the retention rate of JCPS teachers has increased significantly in recent years and currently stands at 96%. The district spokesperson even said that when it comes to vacancies, the district is “very well placed”.

The nine-figure spend isn’t just a solution to a largely non-existent problem – it would also undermine the neighborhood’s well-publicized equity efforts. According to data from the Kentucky Department of Education, the average salary for certified JCPS employees in 2020-2021 was $ 70,567.

That’s more than $ 16,000 more than the average household income in Louisville, which currently stands at $ 53,436. The JCPS faculty is also significantly less racially diverse than the students they serve – 82% of JCPS teachers are white, but only 42% of students are white.

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Every dollar spent on bonuses to solve a ghost teacher retention problem is a dollar that will not be used to meet the needs of children attending JCPS schools – a mistake JCPS makes 75 million times. Should JCPS’s limited funding for the restoration of education really be used to further spread economic and racial inequalities in our city?

A more targeted retention bonus program could have been informed by successful efforts to retain effective educators in high need schools. Or he could have focused on specific positions where vacancies are a problem, such as babysitting and food service positions. Instead, most of this cash windfall will end up subsidizing a relatively well-off segment of our community who didn’t have to worry once about their next paycheck – something few families know. can identify with a district where 66% of students are economically disadvantaged. .

If JCPS is truly interested in helping families hit hardest by the pandemic, they should let those families decide how to spend the resumption of education funding. For almost the same cost as the bonus program on offer, JCPS could put $ 1,200 into the hands of every student qualifying for a free or discounted lunch. This would give families more power to pursue the educational supports their children need to thrive after the pandemic, whether that be tutoring, technology, or support for an additional learning module.

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Alternatively, the district could take an approach that could benefit students and educators by investing in a high-quality curriculum supported by aligned professional development (PD). The average American educator spends over 12 hours per week researching or creating educational materials. Providing JCPS educators with high quality teaching materials and an aligned PYP would give them more time to focus on what really matters: their students.

It is not alarmist to say that we have an education crisis on our hands in Louisville. Before the pandemic, 45% of black third-year JCPS students scored the lowest – ‘novice’ – on state reading tests, compared to only 19% for white students. . And the limited data we have on student performance in the past school year shows that low-income, non-white JCPS students are failing classes at higher rates than in previous years.

Let’s be very clear: The $ 75 million bonus program will do nothing to get things done on these challenges, but we can and must do better for our students. Unlike the vacant teaching positions at JCPS, many students in Louisville are not “in a very good position.” Let us not miss this opportunity to invest directly in their future thanks to the financing of the revival of education.

Alex Spurrier is a Louisville resident and Senior Analyst at Bellwether Education Partners, a non-profit organization focused on changing the education and life outcomes of underserved students.


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