An East Idaho lawmaker said he doesn’t remember a conversation caught on a hot microphone Tuesday suggesting some teachers are clearly overpaid.
While the House was at ease, Rep. Ron Nate, R-Rexburg, forgot to turn off the microphone at his desk. During that time, the Legislature’s streaming service picked up portions of his conversation on the House floor.
“We all know our districts,” Nate said. “We know there are some teachers there that are clearly overpaid.”
Teacher pay is one of the signature issues of this legislative session. Lawmakers will soon be asked to vote on a school budget built around $62 million in new funding for teacher raises.
Teachers, school administrators and other education advocates have recently said teacher pay is too low to recruit and retain quality teachers in Idaho.
Nate did not deny leaving his microphone on or deny that it was his voice captured on the live stream. When asked to clarify his comments, Nate told Idaho Education News his remarks were a nonstory that reporters were pursuing in order to make him look bad.
“I don’t remember the entire conversation,” Nate said. “Because I can’t remember the conversation I would either say this: Either I misspoke when I said that or it was prefaced with something else.”
EdNews asked Nate about the conversation less than an hour after it occurred. Within 10 minutes of the conversation taking place, Nate told an AP reporter that he could not remember what he said.
Nate’s remarks on teacher pay came shortly after the House passed House Bill 262, which sets the ground rules for distributing a $2 million funding increase for college and career counselors. Debating against the bill, Nate argued that the $2 million could be used to hire an additional 53 teachers.
During the House’s lunch break, Nate told EdNews he has been deeply concerned with what he describes as overspending by the Legislature this year.
“The entire conversation was about we need to have more money to spend on teachers so that we can attract and retain good teachers in Idaho,” Nate said. “That’s the whole point of my tracking the overspending this session. Look, there is this much money we’re overspending in other areas. We need to get it to teachers so we can get the good ones and keep them.”
Nate is an educator at a private college, teaching economics at Brigham Young University-Idaho.
During the lunchtime interview, EdNews asked Nate whether he supports or opposes the 2017-18 school budget that calls for increasing teacher pay by $62 million next year.
“I haven’t seen that budget yet,” Nate said. “It would probably be premature to speak, but I’m supportive of paying teachers more.”
In 2015, Nate voted for the Legislature’s signature teacher pay law, the career ladder. Although Nate and other more conservative members of the House frequently vote against state budget bills, Nate voted in favor of raises for teachers in 2015 and 2016.