HELLERTOWN, PA – Paying teachers to pursue a master’s degree – and then rewarding them for attaining it – is a $15 billion-a-year practice in the U.S., even though mounting research shows it has little impact on student learning.

Graduation guyLeaders of Pennsylvania’s Saucon Valley School District want to end the practice of subsidizing their teachers’ degree-related tuition expenses, but it’s causing a stalemate in contract talks with their local teachers union, reports LehighValleyLive.com.

Saucon Valley school board member Ed Inghrim recently explained that tuition reimbursement costs taxpayers “a lot of money.”

MORE NEWS: VIDEO: Ron Paul appears to suffer ‘stroke’ during livestream

“We’re looking at a way to have more value in the classroom,” Inghrim told the news site.

Saucon Valley district officials estimate they spend $12,000 annually per employee on tuition reimbursement and raises related to finishing graduate work, LehighValleyLive.com reports.

Fellow board member Eric Adams called the current subsidy system “out-of-whack” and “not a good way to manage resources.”

That’s a smart school board. Members are obviously aware that scholarly research proves districts get little bang for the buck when they pay teachers to get master’s degrees.

The latest proof came in 2012 when the left-wing Center for American Progress issued a report showing that teachers with master’s degrees “are no more effective, on average, than their counterparts without master’s degrees.”

Saucon Valley district leaders are willing to continue linking teacher pay raises to the possession of advanced degrees; they just don’t want to pay teachers’ college bills, too.

MORE NEWS: UI prof scrambles to rewrite slavery assignment after student complains on Twitter

Taxpayers might wish they’d scrap the entire degree-related pay structure, but it’s important to remember the district is in labor-strong Pennsylvania, the teacher strike capital of the United States. There are limits to the kinds of reforms even the most courageous school board can hope for in the Keystone State.

Naturally, the Saucon Valley Education Association (the local teachers union) wants to protect the subsidy and is reportedly refusing to agree to any contract that doesn’t include it.

Given the SVEA’s penchant for teacher strikes– there were two labor disruptions during negotiations for the now-expired contract – this dispute could possibly lead to a work stoppage down the road.

But looking even further down the road, it’s inevitable that more and more school districts are going to phase out their role in this $15 billion-a-year practice.  The day is coming when districts are going to switch to a merit-based pay plan for teachers, whether the unions like it or not.