Educators make early push to continue increasing teacher pay

With a unified voice the leaders of many of Idaho’s education groups on Wednesday sent an early signal to state leaders that they expect continued investment in increasing teachers’ salaries.

State Department of Education leaders convened a meeting to gather feedback as Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra and her lieutenants begin drafting their 2018-19 public school budget proposal.

Officials mostly shied away from specific dollar amounts or percent increases, but everyone who spoke assigned a top priority to funding the fourth year of a planned five year, $250 million investment in raising educators’ pay through the Legislature’s career ladder salary law.

State officials outlined one scenario calling for increasing beginning teacher salaries to $35,800 and top-tier salaries to $49,401 for 2018-19. Those numbers would increase from current levels of $34,600 and $48,802, respectively.

“The career ladder salaries are certainly the most important thing, just to continue with that,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators. “It shouldn’t be debatable, that’s the first priority.”

Kari Overall, president-elect of the Idaho Education Association, said the top priority for teachers is “ensuring salaries are met for employees, especially as teachers come into the profession.”

And Jessica Harrison, the Idaho School Boards Association’s communications and government affairs director, stressed that administrators’ No. 1 priority is also increasing salaries.

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Beyond that, education leaders outlined several other priorities, including:

  • Increasing funding to pay for classified staffers’ salaries that are not covered by the career ladder, such as IT staffers. State officials said school districts spend about $1.60 for every $1 they receive for classified salaries.
  • Increasing funding for operational funding, a pool of money that is sometimes referred to as “discretionary funding” in budgetary lingo.
  • Reducing line items, or budget earmarks, that specifically direct where districts must spend the money. Education leaders said they prefer the state give local districts as much latitude and freedom to spend their money where they see fit.
  • Increasing funding for professional development training to support teachers and help them increase their skills.
  • Educators working in the special education field also asked SDE officials to support or expand school-based Medicaid programs that benefit students.

Pete Koehler, Ybarra’s chief deputy, said Ybarra has several priorities of her own, topped by increasing teacher pay. Ybarra’s other priorities include:

  • Pushing, for a third time, to launch a rural schools support center that would be piloted with one cooperative-style center located in North Idaho. Ybarra saw her rural schools center proposal die in the Legislature, without funding, in both 2016 and 2017.
  • Expanding mastery-based education beyond the current pilot program that includes 19 participants.
  • Continuing to increase funding for technology in the classroom.

Groups represented during Wednesday’s budget meeting included the Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators, Idaho Digital Learning Academy, Bluum, special education leaders and representatives of the West Ada and Moscow school districts.

Ybarra did not attend, but several members of her leadership team did, as well as state budget analysts and officials from the State Board of Education and governor’s office.

Ybarra won’t make a formal pitch for her budget proposal until the 2018 legislative session, which convenes in January. However, she must submit her budget package to Gov. Butch Otter and the state on Sept. 1, setting the table for policy and budget debates that will dominate the Statehouse in early 2018.

Funding for K-12 public schools is by far the state’s largest annual expense, and accounted for about 49 percent of state general fund spending this year. Earlier this year, lawmakers approved a 6.4 percent increase in education funding for the 2017-18 budget year.

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