Like a bad headache, sometimes bad bills just won’t go away. Such is the case with this week’s Bad Bill of the Week SB 169, introduced by Senator Fletcher Hartsell (R-Cabarrus) and cryptically named Study Innovations/Incentives in Education.
SB 169 calls for creation of a study commission “to study the feasibility of offering financial incentives to students for quality academic performance.” Evidently, Sen. Hartsell believes the creation of financial incentives is crucial to winning the war against dropouts, and improving the achievement gap.
Sen. Hartsell urges the commission to “study the feasibility of giving to every public school student in North Carolina an incentive of one thousand dollars ($1,000) per year beginning in grade one and extending to grade 12 if the student meets successfully specific academic, disciplinary, attendance, charter and parental involvement goals and benchmarks.”
Need we say any more? Spending $100,000 to study an idea that overwhelming majority of us know to be wrong is a perfect example of government waste.
Over the last several years we’ve spent millions on dropout prevention grants to help North Carolina’s disappointing graduation rate. Did it help? The graduation rates hardly moved. Now we’re told financial incentives will do the trick.
Yes, I know there are programs in place in large urban districts around the country that actually pay students for academic performance. Researchers point to their benefits. They also have a habit of ignoring the costs associated with the financial incentives.
Paying students for good grades changes the entire structure of achievement. In addition, creating a broad system of financial rewards also assumes all students are equally motivated by financial incentives. The fact is, some of the most troubled students simply don’t like an academic environment. Dangling financial incentives in front of these students doesn’t change this reality.
Proponents say giving money to students will keep them in school. I ask: at what cost? Will the policy lead to students to expect they should expect incentives on everything they are required to do? What will happen when such student go off to college, will he or she do treat college less seriously when they learn there are no financial incentives for good grades?
While SB 169 generates significant philosophical objections, looming over the discussion is the problem of cost. Distributing payments of $1,000 to qualified (i.e., those meeting the academic and character requirements) to first grade students alone ranges between $78.6 to $101.1 million, depending on your assumptions. And this estimate assumes that the first year of the program incentives would start with just first graders, to be expanded each year as the children progress through the 12th grade. Under this scenario, after 12 years the state will paying children in all twelve grades. At that point, the incentive program could easily exceed $1 billion annually.
This begs the question for Sen. Hartsell: Where does the money come from?
If this all sounds familiar, it should. Sen. Hartsell introduced the same legislation last year. Fortunately the bill died in committee and never received a hearing. I give Sen. Hartsell credit for trying to tackle a serious issue. However this is one of those bills where the proposed solution is worse than the problem. Since there are no other sponsors on the legislation, I can only expect other Senators thought so as well.
Because it offers an unaffordable and ineffective incentive that would be a major disruption to the public schools, SB 169 is our Bad Bill of the Week.
P.S. Do high schoolers really want to be paid for grades? Find out what local high schoolers think. The audio clip below is from YouthPoints, hosted by Lockwood Phillips and aired on March 14, 2011 on WTKF 107.1 FM Wilmington NC.