Legislative roundup, 3.3.2015: Big day looms on teacher pay issues

Wednesday looms as a big day on the teacher pay and licensure issue — one of the big debates looming in the final weeks of the 2015 legislative session.

On Wednesday morning, the House Education Committee will consider printing, or introducing, a bill that would replace the old teacher salary structure with a career ladder.

Then, on Wednesday afternoon, the Senate Education Committee will consider the other half of this controversial equation: an administrative rule to create a tiered teacher licensing structure.

The two meetings will bring the teacher pay and licensure issues to the fore, on the 52nd day of the legislative session.

Both education committees have held general discussions about the career ladder — which could boost starting teacher pay from $31,750 to $37,000, and boost top teacher pay to $57,500, including bonuses for teachers who obtain advanced degrees and take on leadership roles.

House Education held an informal discussion Friday morning, and Senate Education followed suit Tuesday afternoon. Senators pressed for details about how Idaho would compare to neighboring states, if the career ladder is implemented.

“It would put us in a much better position,” said Marilyn Whitney, an education aide to Gov. Butch Otter. But Whitney had no specific comparisons.

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Whitney is slated to present the career ladder proposal Wednesday morning.

Supporters of the career ladder bill face a tight deadline, as the 2015 legislative session heads into its waning weeks. Wednesday morning’s hearing represents only the first step in the lengthy legislative process. Traditionally, public comment and testimony is not accepted during introductory print hearings. Full comment and debate is reserved for the more formal hearings to follow. The career ladder bill would need to pass both houses in order to reach Otter’s desk.

The tiered licensure plan faces a quicker path. The administrative rule need pass only the Senate or House education committee to go into effect — and have the full force of law. Neither committee has taken up the rule, however, while negotiations on the career ladder continued behind closed doors.

The career ladder and the tiered licensure proposals have drawn criticism from the Idaho Education Association, and state superintendent Sherri Ybarra has advocated for a 3 percent teacher raise and a career ladder pilot plan. Otter has been pushing to approve both components this session, and House Speaker Scott Bedke has said the career ladder is a big priority for the 2015 Legislature.

In other Statehouse news:

Labor laws. The House and the Senate overwhelmingly passed separate bills designed to make permanent components of the rejected Proposition 1 labor law.

DeMordaunt New
Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

Pushed by House Education Committee Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, House Bill 169 would make permanent the 2013 law limiting salary and benefit components of school district master agreements to one year in length.

That law, banning so-called “evergreen” contract clauses, is set to expire this summer.

“Prior to this legislation being put in place two years ago, school districts had master agreements that had no end date,” DeMordaunt said. “As a result, that made it very difficult for negotiations.”

Neither the existing law nor the new bill affect the annual teacher contracts that educators sign each year. Instead it affects district master agreements, which are negotiated every year between district officials and the local education union or bargaining agent.

Aside from salary and benefit components, other aspects of master agreements are limited to two years in length.

The bill passed 69-1, with only Garden City Democratic Rep. John McCrostie opposing it. It heads next to the Senate for consideration.

The Senate, meanwhile, passed another labor law on a 33-0 vote — this one setting the ground rules that determine when a school board can cut staffing, eliminate teacher contract days or cut staff salaries. Senate Bill 1088 goes to the House.

Advanced opportunities programs. House Education passed a bill designed to clarify programs for students to complete advanced coursework.

Sen. Steven Thayn, R-Emmett, pushed Senate Bill 1050, relating to the Fast Forward, 8 in 6, dual credit and mastery advancement programs.

Thayn’s bill does several things, in addition to bringing those programs into the same section of law. Changes include:

  • Removing the 10 percent cap per school district for participation in 8 in 6.
  • Changing the definition of a full courseload under 8 in 6 to 12 credits, down from 14.
  • Allowing students in the 8 in 6 program to take classes in traditional brick-and-mortar schools, not just online courses.
  • Amending the Fast Forward program so the state will pay for three postsecondary credits for juniors and six credits for seniors. Under the existing law, the state provided $200 for juniors and $400 for seniors. If the bill is approved juniors would receive $5 less and seniors $10 less, based on a $65-per-credit fee structure.

“The main purpose to do this was to simplify and make paperwork requirements easier,” Thayn said.

Educators and counselors from the state’s two largest school districts – Boise and West Ada – testified that the program benefits students by helping them earn college credits while still attending high school, but administrative requirements are burdensome for schools.

“We really, truly believe in the program and funding to help students move forward… (but) it felt like we were handed a wagon without a wheel and we were required to drag that wagon throughout the state of Idaho,” West Ada high school counselor Amy Shumway said.

Shumway suggested the program could be simplified by creating a voucher system for credits that colleges would accept – with the state handling the paperwork and paying for the courses.

Lawmakers asked to review Shumway’s suggestions and other potential changes in the future, and went ahead and advanced the bill.

“Most good things have a learning curve,” DeMordaunt said. “At the end of the day, I think we need to celebrate the 17,000 credits (earned by West Ada students). That is amazing.”

The bill next heads to the House floor for consideration. It cleared the Senate 30-4 last month.

Data collection. A committee of legislators will spend part of the summer studying student data collection efforts.

The Senate gave final approval to a proposal to create a legislative interim committee that will examine a host of student data issues — including the link between data collection and federal funding.

House Concurrent Resolution 3 passed the Senate 32-0. It has already passed the House, and does not require Gov. Butch Otter’s approval, so Tuesday’s vote marked its final passage.

Idaho Education News reporters Kevin Richert and Clark Corbin contributed to this report.