Bad Bill of the Week: 02/20/09

Senator Fletcher Hartsell (R- Cabarrus) is this week’s bad bill award winner with his introduction of SB 100. This legislation would create a commission to study the feasibility of offering financial incentives to students as a reward for quality academic performance. Among other things the commission will:

Study the feasibility of giving to every public school student in North Carolina an incentive of one thousand ($1,000) dollars per year beginning at grade one and extending to grade 12 in the student meets successfully specific academic, disciplinary, attendance, character, and parental involvement goals and benchmarks.

Translation: Get good grades, get rewarded financially. I can save Sen. Hartsell the time and money necessary to “study” the issue. There are plenty of reasons why SB 100 is a bad idea without even talking about the $100,000 that he wants to spend on the “study”. First, it may be true that not all students are equally motivated to achieve academically. Some may respond positively to financial incentives. But why undermine the integrity of the entire system and the sacrifice of thousands of other students by conflating academic achievement to a dollar value? Tying financial incentives to academic achievement sends the wrong message to all students. It reflects a society obsessed with the outcomes of education, but increasingly unaware of the real value of learning.

Aside from the major philosophical problems, Hartsell’s bill also raises troubling practical issues. Some recent research on the issue of paying kids for academic performance is not promising. While incentives may work for a short time, why should we expect incoming college students weaned on a steady diet of financial rewards for academic performance to suddenly be willing to work for grades with no financial incentives?

A quick look at the math also reveals some major financial problems. North Carolina has roughly 85,000 high school seniors. A seventy percent graduation rate means approximately 59,500 seniors graduate in a given year. If we assume 75 percent of those who graduate (44,625) meet the benchmark goals and receive the $12,000 maximum bonus, the cost to the state for the financial incentives program is approximately $535.5 million (44,625 x 12,000). Aside from the philosophical issues, such costs render the program unworkable; more than half-a-billion dollars to reward kids to do what they should be doing? SB 100 undermines the values of our educational system in an attempt to improve the academic performance of a few. It’s legislation whose impact is worse than the problem it’s trying to correct. The bill is seriously flawed and should be treated that way.

Sen. Hartsell should just read my piece Reducing North Carolina’s Dropout Rate: Some Practical Steps and save the taxpayers millions and the headache of another study committee. The good news – no other senators thought this bill worthy of signing as a co-sponsor.

This article was posted in Bad Bill of the Week by Bob Luebke on February 23, 2009 at 10:12 AM.

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