© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cahokia Heights school district gets grant for performance-based pay system for teachers

The Cahokia School Board of Education building pictured in front of a pale blue sky in early October.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
The grant for Cahokia Unit School District 187 is coming through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund. The district serves Cahokia Heights and Sauget in the Metro East.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

Cahokia Unit School District 187 is getting a total of $8.4 million in federal funding over the next three years to establish a performance-based compensation system for its teachers.

The grant is coming through the U.S. Department of Education’s Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, the 2015 replacement of the Teacher Incentive Fund created by Congress in 2006.

The program provides federal support for high-need school districts to implement, improve or expand their human resources system, which must include a performance-based compensation system.

Cahokia 187 is among 29 new grant recipients for fiscal year 2023, who altogether will be receiving more than $310 million over a three-year period.

Superintendent Curtis McCall Jr. said the district will use the money to create an incentive system based on bonuses for high-performing teachers.

The goal is to improve the district’s teacher shortage and retention as well as student success, he said.

According to the 2022 Illinois Report Card for Cahokia 187, eight of the district’s 10 schools were given the “comprehensive” designation, meaning they were in the lowest-performing 5% of schools in the state and the high school had a graduation rate of 67% or less. The other two schools — the 8th Grade Academy and Oliver Parks 6th Grade School — did not have a designation listed.

McCall Jr. said the district plans to use this bonus system for teachers as a tool to get schools to the “commendable” designation in the next few years. A school receiving this designation has no under-performing student groups and a graduation rate higher than 67%.

The 2022 Illinois Report Card also shows that Cahokia 187’s teacher retention rate was 86.5%, slightly below the state average of 87.6%. According to the unfilled positions data from the Illinois State Board of Education, the district had the full-time equivalent of eight unfilled staff positions and an approximate vacancy rate of 2.67%.

The district is already planning now for the new system, which it hopes to get in place as soon as possible once the federal money is released, McCall Jr. said.

The concept of performance-based teacher compensation — also referred to as merit pay — has been debated for decades. Proponents argue that it motivates and rewards teachers for improving educational outcomes for students, attracts quality educators to schools serving students living in poverty and increases teacher retention rates. Critics say that it creates an unfair, competitive environment for teachers and focuses too much on standardized test scores instead of providing a well-rounded education.

One other metro-east district has been awarded a grant through the same federal program.

Starting in 2017, East St. Louis School District 189 received a total of about $5.16 million through the Teacher and School Leader Incentive Fund, according to Executive Director of Communications and Strategic Partnerships Sydney Stigge-Kaufman.

She said that combined with the district’s match of about $4.58 million in non-federal funds, East St. Louis 189 used the money for a teacher residency program, professional development opportunities for staff, and recruitment, retention and incentives for educators.

Kelly Smits is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

Kelly Smits is the education and environment reporter at the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.