Attorney general rules no foul in UofL open meetings challenge, but the public’s right to know is penalized

COG2When the legislature enacted KRS 61.810(2) in 1992, it did so with good intentions. The Open Meetings Act had prohibited secret meetings of a quorum of the members of a public agency where public business was discussed or action taken since its enactment in 1974.

But agencies quickly found ways to circumvent the Act by holding serial less than quorum meetings where consensus was secretly reached. No quorum was “present” during any of these meetings, but the members attending the meetings collectively constituted a quorum.

The effect of these “floating” or “rolling” serial less than quorum meetings was the same as the effect of a secret meeting of a quorum: the public was denied its legal right to monitor the discussions that went into  the “formation of public policy.”

In enacting KRS 61.810(2), lawmakers recognized that “[a]ny series of less than quorum meetings, where the members attending one or more of the meetings collectively constitute at least a quorum of the members of the public agency” are public meetings under the Act and must be open to the public.

Clear enough. Agencies could no longer evade open meetings compliance by discussing public business in a secret meeting of a quorum of their members or in a series of less than quorum meetings.

At this point, the legislature apparently got cold feet. Lawmakers retreated from the strongly worded statement of prohibited conduct found in KRS 61.810(2) by requiring proof that the serial meetings were “held for the purpose of avoiding the requirements” of the Open Meetings Act.

Consider the challenge to the public of obtaining proof that the agency members intended to violate the Act and the ease with which the agency could refute that proof by submitting affidavits from the members attesting to their innocent participation in the serial meetings.

Lest KRS 61.810(2) have any real impact, lawmakers inserted an additional loophole that permitted serial less than quorum meetings “where the purpose of the discussions is to educate the members on specific issues.”

Not surprisingly, agencies regularly raise this defense when they are accused of violating KRS 61.810(2).

It is, in fact, the defense that the University of Louisville Board of Trustees raised in fending off a legal challenge arising from a September 27 press conference in which Board Chairman David Grissom “told reporters that he called every trustee to get their take on how best to respond to the recruiting scandal,” and indicated that “every trustee told [him] they supported acting President Greg Postel’s decision to suspend athletic director Tom Jurich and men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.”

It is also, unfortunately, the basis on which the Kentucky Attorney General affirmed that action.

Relying on that portion of KRS 61.810(2) which excludes discussions held for the purpose of educating members from the prohibition on serial less than quorum meetings, UofL defended the telephonic meetings between Grissom and the Board members as “informational” and “advisory.”

And in 17-OMD-222  the attorney general agreed with UofL.

In what can only be described as a confusing analysis both legally and factually, the attorney general determined that “The U of L Board did not violate the Open Meetings Act by informational calls made by the Interim President to board members notifying them of the decision to place Mr. Jurich on administrative leave.”

The complainant did not allege, nor did the evidence support, a series of telephone calls placed by  the university president to the individual board members. The complainant alleged — and the evidence incontrovertibly supported — a series of telephone calls placed by the chairman of the board to the individual board members. The attorney general’s understanding of the underlying facts is curiously flawed.

This error aside, the attorney general casually accepted the board’s defense that the series of less than quorum telephonic meeting —  in which board members collectively constituting a quorum participated —  were informational only notwithstanding the fact that Grissom, himself, stated in a press conference that he contacted the members by telephone to “get their take on how best to respond” to the scandal and that every member expressed support for President Postel’s decision to suspend the key players.

This suggests not just the sharing of information but also discussion of alternatives (“how best to respond”) and  expressions of opinions (“expressed support”) on a matter with which the board of trustees was ultimately entrusted, specifically, Jurich’s future employment at the university.

In fact, it sounds a lot like the beginning of “the formation of public policy.”

KRS 61.810(2) does not require proof that the members took action. Their discussion of public business was sufficient to trigger the KRS 61.810(2) requirement of an open meeting even if that portion of the meeting relating to discussion of Jurich’s discipline or dismissal was conducted in a properly convened closed session.

The casualness with which the attorney general approached this issue will embolden other public agencies to exploit the loopholes in KRS 61.810(2) that essentially render it a nullity. Short of an admission by agency members that their goal was to avoid the requirements of the Open Meetings Act and that they took action on a matter with which they were entrusted, 17-OMD-222 suggests he is willing to give them a pass.

In a report issued earlier this year, the Bluegrass Institute Center for Open Government recommended elimination of both of the loopholes in KRS 61.810(2).  We proposed a zero tolerance statute. The benefits would be twofold. First, public agencies could no longer evade accountability by the simple expedient of feigning ignorance of their statutory duties. And second, the public could assert the right to monitor discussion of the same information presented to the members so that the public and the members would be equally well educated on specific issues.

The net effect would be a slam dunk for open government.

 

 

 

On the air: Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team director on ‘Kentucky Tonight’…tonight!

Kyresized BIPRT Bill Smith

Join Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team director Dr. William Smith on KET’s Kentucky Tonight at 8 p.m. … tonight!

Smith joins host Renee Shaw and a panel of guests discussing Frankfort’s latest proposal to fix Kentucky’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis.

Also appearing will be Stephanie Winkler, president of the Kentucky Education Association; Dave Adkisson, president and chief executive officer of the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce; and Jason Bailey, director of the Kentucky Center for Economic Policy.

Watch the hour-long show live on KET and at www.ket.org/live.

Viewers with questions and comments may send e-mail to kytonight@ket.org or use the message form at www.ket.org/kytonight. Viewers may also submit questions and comments on Twitter @KyTonightKET. All messages should include first and last name and town or county.

Plan to call in during the program with your comments and questions at 1-800-494-7605.

Kentucky Tonight programs are archived online, made available via podcast, and rebroadcast on KET, KET KY, and radio.

Help the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions continue to advance freedom and prosperity by promoting free‐market capitalism, smaller government, and the defense of personal liberties. Join us!

 

Kentucky’s new charter schools head sounds off

The Kentucky Department of Education’s new director of charter schools, Earl Simms, talks to WDRB in Louisville about his new role and what is coming with charter schools in Kentucky.

Check the video interview here:

WDRB 41 Louisville News

Kentucky’s charter school regulations have been approved by the Kentucky Board of Education and are now moving through the legislative review process. Very likely, this process will be completed in time for a chartering organization to get a new school up and running as early as the 2018-19 school term.

Bluegrass Beacon: End mooching off taxpayers for sports stadiums

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide. This recent column has been updated to reflect the misguided 23-2 vote by the Louisville Metro Council for this public-private nonsense.

National Anthem protests and disrespect of the flag by NFL players isn’t only revealing the ungratefulness of coddled pro athletes for the sacrifice made by multitudes for our freedoms, it’s also exposing Americans to a type of crony capitalism – collusion between big business and big government – that for too long has flown under most of their radars.

While there have been attempts in the past to deal with the intermingling of “big sports” we’ll call it and big government – including proposals during even the Obama administration to prohibit use of tax-exempt bonds for stadium construction – they can’t get passed because too many congressmen are unwilling to lose their perks, including those free season tickets for family and friends.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are forced to finance stadiums for owners, players and teams that earn multi-millions, even billions, of dollars yet that offer games or concerts with ticket prices so high many of those taxpayers themselves cannot afford to take their families to the very venues they’re coerced into funding.

The most egregious subsidy sins are committed when federal dollars are used to fund professional sports stadiums, 36 of which have been built during the past 17 years at a cost placed by a Brookings Institution study at more than $3 billion.

How many Montana taxpayers will ever step foot into Paul Brown Stadium, where eight football games by the NFL’s Cincinnati Bengals are played each year, the construction of which soaked up $164 million worth of federal taxpayer money via municipal bonds?

How many Kentucky taxpayers will ever cuss out an umpire in Yankee Stadium, built in 2009 at a cost of $2.5 billion, $431 of which million came in the form of federal tax subsidies?

Yet another attempt to end such subsidies in the form of bipartisan legislation proposed earlier this summer in Washington is picking up speed while heading down the sideline toward the end zone.

It would be sweet to this columnist if now is the time we say collectively as a nation to these pampered players and to those teams whose mooching owners also are taking a knee: “You have a constitutional right to kneel during the anthem and shake a fist at our flag, but you’ll no longer do it on our dime.”

In fact, anyone who supports a free-market approach centered on a vibrant private sector leading the way toward economic prosperity – a system which made ours the most prosperous nation in history – won’t develop a stadium-building plan centered on pilfering taxpayers.

They won’t want to fork over $30 million for a facility in which a grand total of 16 regular-season minor league soccer matches will be played each year as the Louisville Metro Council – coerced by Mayor Greg Fischer – recently supported doing by a 23-2 vote.

They won’t try to mask the awfulness of such a proposal by offering unproven claims that such a facility will attract investment, create jobs and spur economic growth.

Many such tired and worn-out claims have been made during the recent soccer-stadium debate in Derby City.

They won’t claim that such mooching is okay in the case of the planned stadium near downtown Louisville because it’s part of a $200 million development that includes a retail, office and hotel complex.

We’ve heard lots of that, too, from developers and folks eager to support projects backed by taxpayers.

The Brookings report states that studies “consistently find no discernible positive relationship between sports facility construction and economic development, income growth, or job creation.”

Louisville patent attorney Theresa Camoriano writing in the online Jefferson Review asserts that nothing proposed by Fischer and his fellow stadium enthusiasts supports the case for public funding.

“Either they are a good financial risk, in which case investors will voluntarily invest in them, or they are not, in which case taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize them involuntarily,” Camoriano writes.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Fixing pension problem requires all hands — including those of beneficiaries — on deck to insure ‘this never happens again’

Bluegrass Institute Pension Reform Team and board member Aaron Ammerman pointed out in his letter in today’s Lexington Herald-Leader:

“Paying off the unfunded liability and honoring benefits that have already been earned by state workers will be an extraordinary effort, considering funding also needs to be found for essential state services such as education, health care and infrastructure.”

The Bluegrass Institute has warned for years that the day would come when tough choices necessary to address the worst-in-the-nation pension crisis would threaten to crowd out funding for many government services that most Kentuckians would consider essential.

That day has arrived. To make matters worse, as Ammerman notes:

“To this point, state employees have resisted even the slightest adjustment to future unearned pension benefits, even though past benefits have been guaranteed at great cost.”

Ironically, many of the same voices calling for a hefty increase in taxes to address the commonwealth’s pension crisis also are the staunchest opponents to, as Ammerman puts it, “accepting reasonable changes to future benefits and installing safeguards so that this never happens again.”

 

“Much ado about nothing?” The Oldham Circuit Court disagrees.

COG2In July, 2017, we criticized an open records decision issued by the Kentucky Attorney General declaring that a public agency could place restrictions on an open records recipient’s use of nonexempt public records without subverting the intent of the Open Records Law.

We suggested that an attorney general’s decision endorsing agency’s censorship of a recipient’s publication of records obtained under that law represented a direct assault on the public’s right to know. We cited four prior attorney general holdings — three of them legally binding open records decisions —  that directly contradicted the attorney general’s 2017  decision.

Following her unsuccessful appeal to the attorney general, the open records recipient, a Cabinet for Health and Family Services employee who had been  instructed by the Cabinet that she could not discuss the records released to her with anyone, challenged that attorney general’s decision in the Oldham Circuit Court. In late July, we reported on the hearing in that case.

We were outraged by the dismissive attitude of the Cabinet’s attorney toward the hearing. He characterized the issue before the court as “much ado about nothing.” When he and I met outside the courtroom prior to the hearing, he expressed surprised at my presence declaring that the issue was “stupid.”

Oldham Circuit Judge Karen A. Conrad did not agree.

On October 24, she issued an opinion declaring that the Cabinet for Health and Family Services violated the Open Records Law when it disclosed public records to the recipient with instructions not to share the records with anyone else.

Judge Conrad was apparently no more impressed by the Cabinet attorney’s “remarkable display of obfuscation” at the hearing than were we. In her opinion, she focused on the referenced legal authorities issued by the attorney general  — the most recent in 2014 —  which counsel for the Cabinet and the attorney general chose to ignore.

Noting that the “the common theme among them is that it is impermissible for an agency to direct how a person may use documents procured from an open records request,” Judge Conrad concluded that although the Cabinet “supplied the requested documents pursuant to an open records request,” it “violate[d] the Open Records Act in advising the [recipient of the records] that she could not discuss the contents with anyone but her supervisors.”

In so doing, she repudiated the Cabinet’s actions and the attorney general’s 2017 open records decision approving those actions.

Cases like this one do not make headlines. The Cabinet employee who brought it is not a famous, or infamous, public official. The stakes are high, ostensibly at least, only to her.

But her courage and sacrifice in bringing this action cannot be discounted. And the principle that she and her attorney successfully vindicated is fundamental to the Open Records Law.

“What is at stake” we asked in our analysis of the circuit court hearing in July? “Nothing less than the right of an open records requester to freely use the records to which she is afforded access. What good is a public record if it cannot be made public?”

Cynics may disagree, but these small battles in the war on agency abuse of the Open Records Law do as much, if not more, to steadily advance and invigorate the cause of transparency and accountability than some of the widely reported cases whose holdings may have limited application.

The individuals who bring these cases in circuit courtrooms across the state are true  champions of open government. Their efforts represent considerably more than “much ado about nothing.” And their achievements are anything but “stupid.”

Through their efforts and achievements, these individuals may one day succeed in convincing agencies like the Cabinet for Health and Family Services to abandon a “culture of secrecy” that – in 2016 — resulted in the imposition of  hundreds of thousands of dollars in penalties, costs and attorneys’ fees. Perhaps the agencies will reconcile themselves to, and even embrace, the value of open government if that day comes.

 

 

Bluegrass Beacon: Pension plan cools, but freeze still needed

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.  

While waiting this past summer for the release of a consulting group’s recommendations on addressing Kentucky’s worst-in-the-nation public-pension crisis, the question arose in this column: Will there be a pension freeze?

That previous column asserted: “the only way Kentucky will survive this fiscal storm is by freezing benefit-accrual rates for all members of every system, and resetting the pension plans” so that in the future “benefits are awarded based on their relationship with investment returns and payroll contributions rather than the warm, but deceptive, weather of political palatability.”

The answer has been delivered in the Bevin administration’s proposal: there’s not a freeze but things are cooling down a bit, but at the rate of a worn-out air conditioner in an old car on a blistering hot day.

Still, get up close and there could be some measure of relief, depending, of course, on what cuts from this latest pension proposal get left on the legislature’s floor.

The plan proposes ending the defined-benefits plan for all current and future legislators, putting them into a 401k-style plan, just as new employees in all plans will be offered beginning on July 1, 2018.

While Frankfort’s politicians have been falling all over themselves to make sure retirees know they won’t lose benefits already granted, they’ve also been acutely aware of the ongoing unpopularity of their own gold rush-like pension plan and agreed to take steps to claw back grossly lavish benefits handed out to retired lawmakers.

“Existing defined benefit members and current retirees will have their benefit calculation based on their legislative salary,” said the document handed out Wednesday.

Does this mean that former big-spending Democratic House budget chairman Harry Moberly will be forced to give up a substantial portion of his $154,912 public pension?

Let’s hope so.

Moberly’s pension was greatly padded thanks to legislation passed in 2005 allowing part-time lawmakers to apply their three highest years of salary in another plum government position to the retirement checks they draw on the legislative pension system.

If Moberly and other self-serving political retirees want to fight that claw-back provision in court, I’m getting my reservation in now for a front-row seat in a Frankfort courtroom.

I can hardly wait to hear them defend keeping their extravagant benefits, which are based on their own personal votes for bills creating such opulence.

Bring it on, Harry.

The new pension proposal also takes a small step toward getting the cost of health-care benefits under control by requiring all employees to contribute an additional 3 percent of their salaries toward retiree health care benefits.

However, a full blast of cool requires replacing one of the main elements of this plan, which still allows beneficiaries in the systems to “continue to accrue full unreduced retirement eligibility” until they reach 27 years of service.

But who in their right mind would agree to any pension plan that adds more unfunded liabilities to Kentucky’s worst-in-the-nation pension crisis, which has been pegged with being as deep as $85 billion in the hole?

This is where I barely feel any cold air.

At the very least, we must reset the system for current beneficiaries, recalibrating pension-benefit factors based on actuarially sound assumptions, not just what they were last year.

We’re facing the stark possibility that Frankfort will need to find an additional $2 billion in future budgets to effectively address the liability.

Where will this money come from?

Before taxpayers let Frankfort anywhere near our wallets and purses, there must be a breaking of the silence concerning how irresponsible retroactive benefit enhancements in the past and promises of future such enrichments have been a primary contributor to Kentucky’s unfunded pension liabilities.

By refusing to acknowledge that failure, the new proposal neglects to include safeguards to ensure Kentucky’s dark pension history doesn’t repeat itself.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Digital Learning: Care needed

My own experience indicates that, properly conducted, digital learning can be beneficial. Essentially similar machine-based instruction certainly proved to be an improvement nearly half a century ago when I was an Air Force Instructor Pilot programming the first generation of automated teaching technology to go operational in that service’s pilot training program. Student pilots picked up a number of skills more quickly and instructors could move immediately to more advanced discussions in their pre- and post-flight briefings because the students were getting basic introduction to new material in the learning center setting.

When I retired and went to work for a major US airline, that company’s annual recurrent and initial pilot training programs came to increasingly rely on significant amounts of digital learning approaches, as well. Again, this suited me and a lot of other pilots well.

But, technology isn’t always a magic silver bullet. If the instructional materials are not high quality and are not employed with skill, the old computer term “Garbage in, garbage out” can take hold quickly.

Obviously, if kids are playing video games instead of looking at the day’s instructional modules or listening to the classroom lecture, learning isn’t happening.

Thus, it wasn’t a real surprise when I heard about a new study about digital learning from the West Point Military Academy. Researchers split over 700 cadets into three separate sample groups to explore how varying amounts of technology impacted performance in a lecture-based sophomore level economics course.

As Rick Hess summarizes:

“On the three-and-a-half-hour final exam—which included multiple-choice, short-answer, and essay questions—students in the technology-free group fared best.”

On the other hand, students who were allowed to use technology in or out of the classroom as they desired scored lower by “a statically significant and pretty meaningful difference” according to Hess.

There are some important limitations to the West Point study. It appears that no lessons were designed to be taught on the computer, so the technology was only being used as an aid in traditionally taught classes.

Thus, the jury is still out on the real impacts of using digital devices in the instructional setting. However, the West Point study shows that caution is advised when digital learning is involved and more research is badly needed.

Along those lines, I have been looking at the first year’s test results for a very extensive digital learning effort that started in several Boone County schools in the 2016-17 school term. This one encompassed massive use of digitally based instruction as well as the use of digital devices as support elements. I’ll have more to say about that Boone County effort soon, so stay tuned.

Bluegrass Beacon: Taxpayers deserve at least honorable mention in pension debate

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Maybe it’s because I’ve been speaking to Rotarians recently, but I’m thinking stakeholders in Kentucky’s pension fiasco could do a lot worse than adapting and applying Rotary’s Four-Way Test to this crisis: Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build goodwill and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

While perusing a copy of the Kentucky Retirement Systems (KRS) 2016 Summary Annual Financial Report – Dave Eager, the KRS’s cordial interim executive director, handed me my own bright shiny copy – it became apparent to me that, considering the current tone and emphasis, the proper place to begin the next phase of the debate is at the far end of that gauntlet of goodwill.

Will the reforms finally accepted be beneficial to all concerned?

Dialogue around Frankfort’s political water cooler these days focuses primarily on two of the stakeholders – beneficiaries and politicians – and two major questions:

  • Can Republicans, who control the legislature and governor’s office, get solid-enough agreement among their caucuses, allowing them to come to the Capitol for a special session and pass effective pension-reform legislation in a judicious and timely manner?
  • Will benefits be reduced?

If, however, we’re going to implement reforms “beneficial to all concerned,” shouldn’t the largest stakeholder group of all – taxpayers – receive at least honorable mention in these discussions?

An abundant supply of political hyperventilating to pacify and reassure retiree and beneficiary groups and their talking heads is on full display while a much-larger stakeholder group is in danger of being denied even a place at that water cooler.

Yet while the 364,710 KRS members may form a significant voting bloc, what sincere consideration will be granted in whatever KRS reforms finally get passed to the 1.25 million Kentucky taxpayers, who, reports another glossy publication from Truth in Accounting, each carry a $39,000 burden of debt for the commonwealth’s unpaid bills, including its worst-in-the-nation public-pension liability?

The KRS publication offers a curious take on how it believes taxpayers benefit from this underwater retirement system.

Quoting a national group’s numbers, it claims – apparently with a collective straight face on the part of its authors – that each dollar of the $1.9 billion paid to its recipients in 2016 “supported $1.43 in total economic activity in Kentucky.”

Really?

Are we hardworking schmucks in the private sector missing out?

Should we be sending our entire paychecks and savings to KRS to experience this amazing investment phenomenon for ourselves?

It would be safer to hide our money under the mattress, considering KRS’s report goes on to claim incredulously that “in an unsteady economy, the consistent addition of pension funds into the economy is a stabilizing element.”

What if Bernie Madoff made such claims about an underwater business?

Why, he’d be in jail. Oh yeah, that’s right – he is!

This KRS document’s rocket-like spin ignores the fact that just about everyone else – including credit-rating agencies – deems the commonwealth’s pension liability, which is between $38 billion and $85 billion, the primary contributor to that “unsteady economy.”

Neither does it bother to include anything about how the dramatic decline in the systems’ funding levels – including the drop from more than 130 percent funded in 2000 to barely 13 percent currently – was caused not by taxpayers’ stinginess but by the arbitrary, retroactive and irresponsible awarding of benefit enhancements during a period spanning several decades.

As politicians increasingly pound the bully pulpit, sermonizing about how “we have a moral obligation to keep our commitments to those in the system,” we should demand they follow that up with statements about the immorality of government taking more from taxpayers, who, I remind, form the largest of the stakeholder groups.

It’s their hard work, investment and sacrifice that form the foundation of this commonwealth’s economy and future.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Read previous columns at www.bipps.org. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.

Bluegrass Beacon: Merit pay for teachers merits consideration

BluegrassBeaconLogoEditor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon column is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Hardin County Schools Superintendent Teresa Morgan at a recent town hall on public pensions bemoaned the fact that interest in vacant teaching positions has dropped in recent years from as many as 100 applicants per opening to as few as 10, with some openings in math and science fields nearly impossible to fill.

Her recruiting pitch is, “We can’t say ‘you will make $150,000,’ but we can say we will pay you a living-wage salary and a pension that you will be proud of – one that you have earned and deserve.”

But touting retirement benefits are an awkward way to recruit and retain teachers.

Instead, why shouldn’t Morgan be able to offer a starting physics teacher a higher salary than, say, a new physical education instructor?

While Morgan is eager to defend extremely generous pension packages, she and her fellow Kentucky superintendents should also acknowledge the consequences of using a one-size-fits-all salary schedule as the primary mechanism for hiring teachers.

This approach shoehorns decisions about teachers’ salaries into only considering numbers, not types, of degrees earned and years of experience.

There aren’t nearly enough incentives to attract candidates for scarce skill areas.

A merit-pay policy could help.

Vanderbilt University recently released a new study claiming merit programs are more likely to accomplish what single-salary schedules based on simply having an extra degree and two decades in a classroom cannot: attract and retain high flyers to subjects where a shortfall exists and motivate current teachers in every area to improve, all of which positively impacts students’ academic opportunities and achievement.

The study found a “statistically significant positive association between teacher merit pay programs and student test scores,” amounting to four additional weeks of learning.

Pop quiz: Quick, name a pension benefit or sick-day policy that’s added an entire month’s worth of learning to a student’s academic experience?

Common sense and the experience of other professions dictate the truth that too many teachers-union leaders and bureaucrats spurn: retaining high performers – especially those willing to accept harder-to-fill positions – requires recognizing some teachers simply perform better and contribute more to our children’s education.

“Nothing demotivates a high performer faster than knowing that the employees who have contributed much less in the organization, have received the same pay increase or bonus,” Susan M. Heathfield writes on The Balance while examining “The Advantages and Disadvantages of Merit Pay.”

Heathfield writes about how merit pay affects professions in general, but it applies to teaching at least as much.

Where are the stakes higher than when we’re preparing future generations to lead this country and commonwealth?

Union leaders and sympathizers will generally circle the wagons faster than John Wayne when the discussion gets serious about merit-pay approaches that require evaluating teachers on a set of performance-related factors.

But they also have some legitimate concerns that must be addressed for a merit-pay system to work in Kentucky.

For example, including test scores in the evaluation process requires having a valid, reliable testing system that assesses students in the fall when they enter a new grade and then again in the spring – with results being available in a much-timelier manner than currently happens – to show the teacher’s value and impact upon her classroom.

This allows a teacher assigned a group of struggling, disadvantaged students from low-income homes in the inner city an opportunity to reap rewards for improvement she brings to those in her class between August and June rather than basing the merit of her work on how she stacks up against teachers in a suburban school with kids from wealthier homes and lots of advantages.

Merit pay would offer Kentucky a chance to build a reputation of attracting the best and brightest into its classrooms – even with more modest pension benefits.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. He can be reached at jwaters@freedomkentucky.com and @bipps on Twitter.