Cost of career ladder inches upward

The price of the career ladder ­— this year’s big-ticket education item — is inching upward.

It will take about $62 million to cover the third year of the career ladder, a five-year plan to boost teacher salaries. That’s up from the $58 million Gov. Butch Otter and state schools superintendent Sherri Ybarra requested in their respective budgets for 2017-18.

Growth is driving up the increase, Otter education aide Marilyn Whitney told the Senate Education Committee Monday afternoon.

Enrollment is growing across Idaho, according to State Department of Education figures released in October. With the increase, fall enrollment eclipsed the 300,000 mark — but this translated to a 1.7 percent increase in student population.

The $4 million increase in the career ladder cost translates to an increase of roughly 6.5 percent.

The career ladder is the state’s centerpiece plan to boost teacher pay, and help Idaho school districts attract and retain quality teachers. It’s also the priciest of 20 recommendations from Otter’s 2013 education task force.

Since passing the career ladder law in 2015, lawmakers have invested about $75 million into the first two years of funding. The third year has long been expected to be the most costly installment of the five-year rollout.

During Senate Education’s first meeting of the session, a series of education leaders and lobbyists took turns advocating for career ladder funding.

Jessica Harrison of the Idaho School Boards Association called career ladder funding the group’s top priority for 2017. Penni Cyr of the Idaho Education Association said the career ladder could help offset Idaho’s “competitive disadvantage,” as the state loses teachers to higher-paying jobs beyond its borders.

But speakers also acknowledged the controversy surrounding teacher evaluations — the linchpin that will be used to determine teacher pay raises. Idaho Education News has reported on errors in evaluations data dating back to 2015.

Otter has also proposed $2.5 million to train school administrators who perform evaluations.

“(Otter) is confident that any issues can be addressed,” Whitney said.