Ky. Governor's Proposal To Boost Teacher Pay Debated

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Kentucky Gov. Paul E. Patton's call for mandated pay raises for teachers threatens to do what months of scheming by opponents of the Kentucky education-reform law has not managed--hobble the state's open-ended testing and performance bonus programs.

The House recently passed a budget that would reduce funding for the testing program and dip into money reserved for one-time bonuses to pay for the 2.6 percent raises Mr. Patton has proposed.

The salary increases are a gesture by Mr. Patton toward the Kentucky Education Association, which supported the governor in his narrow victory last fall.

The proposal has quickly become a source of contention among lawmakers and educators in the Bluegrass State.

Many observers, including Wilmer S. Cody, the state education commissioner, have assailed the across-the-board raises as a departure from the state's attempts to equalize spending among wealthy and poorer districts. And the group of districts that pressed the legal challenge that led to the landmark 1990 school-reform law says it will return to court if the raises become law.

Senate Action Pending

The debate will likely be settled in the Senate, which begins its work on the budget this week.

Many political observers have accepted the House's attack because they believe Senate leaders will not allow the programs to be slashed.

"The prevailing notion among a lot of legislators is that they've already made a commitment that teachers will get rewards if they continue to show improvements," Jim Parks, a spokesman for the state education department, said.

Mr. Cody last week was planning a round of visits to legislative leaders to answer questions and gauge their intentions.

Ironically, Mr. Patton was elected on a platform that supported the school-reform law. He has pledged to assemble a task force after this year's legislative session to study the law's effects.

But his top priority has been to win the raises for teachers.

To pay for the raises, the House voted to cut funding for the bonus program, which grants one-time cash awards to teachers in schools that exceed state improvement targets. The funding would drop from $40 million to $25 million.

The plan would also limit spending on new tests to $5 million, down from the $9.1 million officials had estimated the tests would cost. Under such tests, students would be required to explain answers instead of choosing them from among multiple-choice options.

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