Legislature’s education leaders back new raises for teachers

The leaders of the Legislature’s two education committees emphasized their commitment to fund pay raises for Idaho teachers during the 2017 session.

In interviews Wednesday, House Education Committee Chairwoman Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, and Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, said they are committed to a third year of raises under the Legislature’s teacher pay law, the career ladder.

However, both said the controversy surrounding teacher evaluations is a barrier to overcome.

Sen. Dean Mortimer
Sen. Dean Mortimer

“I believe wholeheartedly in the career ladder,” Mortimer said. “It is a very, very important thing for teachers in making sure they are compensated and rewarded for their efforts.”

VanOrden sounded a similar call.

“The outlook on the career ladder is, I think, good,” VanOrden said. “As far as priorities go, mostly the priority is to just work on the funding for the career ladder, for student growth and making sure the laws we passed already, like the literacy money, are there for districts to use.”

Passed in 2015, the career ladder is Idaho’s signature teacher pay law. In order to help recruit and retain quality teachers, the career ladder calls for increasing pay by approximately $250 million over five years.

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When lawmakers passed the career ladder, they added a degree of accountability by tying a teacher’s ability to earn a raise to their performance on annual evaluations.

Julie VanOrden
Rep. Julie VanOrden

Since June 2015, Idaho Education News has documented multiple inaccuracies and irregularities within the evaluation system. Some superintendents falsely reported to the state that every single one of their teachers earned identical overall evaluation scores. In other districts, administrators entered data incorrectly.

In December, Idaho EdNews relied on a public records request to publish an independent review that found 99 percent of the 2014-15 teacher evaluations screened did not meet all of the State Department of Education’s requirements.

“We had a little bit of a stumbling block there with the evaluations report,” VanOrden said.

School administrators say the review was flawed and unfair because some requirements were not yet in place when the 2014-15 evaluations were due.

Nevertheless, the controversy has not gone away. On Dec. 22, EdNews outlined widespread confusion and disagreement on the rules and procedures for evaluations. On Wednesday, the Associated Press relied on public records to report that Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra was once working secretly with the consulting firm that reviewed teacher evaluations, McREL International, to potentially design a new evaluations model. In July EdNews first reported Ybarra had identified McREL as a potential vendor to design a new state evaluations tool.

Mortimer said legislators will address the evaluations controversy during the session.

“Where we struggled, of course, was in the evaluations process,” Mortimer said. “We are learning very quickly there was a lot of miscommunication and additional training and teaching that needs to occur with our administrators.

“It will be a communications year — one in which we will get a lot better understanding between administrators and legislators and the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education of what needs to happen so evaluations can be more efficient and effective,” Mortimer continued.

The legislative session kicks off Monday with Gov. Butch Otter’s State of the State address. Ybarra has already called for spending about $58 million next year in raises and increased benefits under the career ladder. Otter will unveil his budget proposal Monday, but he has signaled support for the $58 million.

Check back with Idaho Education News for full coverage of Otter’s address Monday, and follow @IdahoEdNews on Twitter for the latest breaking news throughout the session.