More than five years after the Legislature passed the career ladder as a revamped salary allocation model, more Idaho schools and districts are using it to pay their teachers.
This year, 122 school districts or charters are using the career ladder, although most districts supplement the program with local dollars, according to an Idaho Education News analysis of salary data for 2019-20.
Of the 122 districts or charters that use the career ladder, 29 pay exactly the state’s career ladder allocation, while 22 pay below it.
Meanwhile, 52 districts or charters use their own local salary schedule based on experience and education.
That means that 70 percent of districts or charters utilize the career ladder. That’s up from 2016-17, when the mix of districts and charters using the career ladder was about 50/50, according to Idaho EdNews research.
The new data is important because it can help inform an ongoing legislative debate of how Idaho pays teachers and funds schools.
Teacher pay and the career ladder are hot topics in Idaho education circles. Over the previous five years, the Legislature implemented the $250 million career ladder salary allocation program. This summer, Gov. Brad Little’s education task force recommended expanding the career ladder, a discussion that is likely to continue into the 2020 legislative session.
Against that backdrop, the Idaho Freedom Foundation this summer released its “Broken Ladder” report, which included the subhead “Why Idaho needs to replace the Career Ladder.”
The mix of districts using the career ladder is varied. Some small districts and charters, including Cambridge, Wallace and Culdesac, continue to use their own salary schedule. Several larger districts, including Boise and Nampa, also use their own salary schedule.
Meanwhile, large districts such as Bonneville, Pocatello, Caldwell and others use the career ladder. But smaller districts like Bruneau-Grand View, Middleton and Basin use the career ladder as well.
Charters are also a mix. Coeur d’Alene Charter Academy, North Star Charter and Taylors Crossing Charter use the career ladder, while Anser Charter Academy, Liberty Charter and Victory Charter rely on their own salary schedule. Notably, charters are not allowed to levy for additional dollars and do not having local taxing authority.
West Ada, the state’s largest district based on enrollment, uses the career ladder and supplements it with local dollars. Superintendent Mary Ann Ranells backs the career ladder.
“For most of our staff it has made them feel more valued,” Ranells said. “Our young teachers with families don’t have to wait until close to retirement age to have a livable wage.”
But that doesn’t mean support is unanimous.
“The teachers who feel it has not worked well for them are mostly our veteran teachers because the third rung (was not built out by the Legislature),” Ranells said. “I would say I’ve heard that consistently.”
One reason West Ada supplements what the state allocates is to be more competitive with the neighboring Boise district.
This month, Little’s task force recommended a strategy that could address some of the concerns Ranells hears. The task force recommended building out the career ladder specifically to increase pay for veteran teachers. But several Republican legislators abstained from voting or voted against that recommendation.
Senate Education Committee Chairman Dean Mortimer, R-Idaho Falls, abstained from voting, but made it clear how he feels about the career ladder. Moments before the Nov. 4 task force vote, Mortimer said the career ladder has been successful in some ways but unsuccessful in other ways because there is “funding that was intended for a certain class of teachers that is going to a different class.”
“To say we want to put a third rung on the career ladder, I don’t think that’s necessarily where we want to go,” Mortimer said at the time. “I think we missed the mark on this one.”
When the Legislature debated and then passed the career ladder during the 2015 session, it was always clear that the career ladder would be the state’s mechanism for allocating pay to districts and charters, but that salary and benefits could still be negotiated every year at the local level. The only salary that is mandated by state law is the state’s minimum, which increased to $38,500 this year.
Idaho Education News data analyst Randy Schrader contributed research to this report.