New teacher salary bill introduced

The House Education Committee revived the teacher salary debate Wednesday by introducing a new career ladder bill that puts more money into minimum teacher salaries.

Committee members spent about 15 minutes discussing the rewritten proposal, which is designed to increase state funding for teacher salaries over five years.

It was unclear whether the latest version of the career ladder is going forward. On Thursday, members of House Education are scheduled to consider introduction of another new career ladder bill.

Vice Chair Julie VanOrden, R-Pingree, said the new bill up Thursday will make at least one change from the version introduced Wednesday.

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Rep. Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle

The career ladder bill introduced Wednesday would raise minimum salaries from $31,750 to $32,700 next year, an increase of almost 3 percent. The state minimum would increase to $33,200 the following year.

Last week, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, shelved an earlier version of the career ladder after members of both parties questioned the plan and dozens of teachers testified against it.

As the old plan did, the new bill creates two salary rungs — a residency rung for teachers in their first three years and a professional rung for experienced teachers.

Under the bill, Idaho teachers who have at least three years of experience would enter the career ladder with “professional” status, and would not need to worry about advancing from rung to rung.

But one of the previous bill’s most outspoken critics, Rep. Ryan Kerby, blasted the new proposal. Kerby said provisions allowing so-called master teachers to earn a $4,000 per year in leadership bonuses would be divisive, leading to increased competition and decreased collaboration.

For example, he described a hypothetical school district where one fifth-grade teacher earns the $4,000 premium and the others did not. This scenario would breed resentment.

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Rep. Ryan Kerby, R-New Plymouth

“We have a responsibility for a culture of morale,” said Kerby, superintendent of his local school district. “This will be a very bitter pill if this goes through as far as the effect on schools.”

The bill that will be considered Thursday is designed to ease Kerby’s concerns, VanOrden said.

Since DeMordaunt killed the first bill, lawmakers, state officials and education groups met several times to tweak the bill and draft a series of changes into the legislation.

Those changes include:

  • Raising the minimum teacher salary to $32,700. Under the previous bill, teachers would start at $32,200.
  • Raising second-year teacher salaries to $33,200. Under the old bill, those salaries would have been $33,000.
  • Student achievement benchmarks would be clarified, and limited only to students who are enrolled for at least 80 percent of the duration of a class.
  • State Department of Education officials would be put in charge of auditing teacher evaluations. Under the old bill, that responsibility would have belonged to the deans of the state’s colleges of education.
  • A $2,000 annual bonus for teachers who become nationally board certified. The old bill contained no such incentive.
  • Dropping a requirement that teachers amass eight years of continuous teaching experience in order to qualify for a master teacher bonus. Master teachers would still need to have eight years’ experience, but only the final three years of those would need to be consecutive – meaning teachers could qualify even if they take a break or raise a family.
  • Clarifying that charter school teachers would be eligible to receive master teacher bonuses.
  • Adding a stipulation that the professional endorsement provisions of the bill would no longer apply if the career ladder plan is not funded.

“It is encouraging to see that teachers will be included in the crafting of student achievement metrics at the local level and in determining criteria for leadership premiums,” said Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association. “While not perfect, the new proposed legislation is a beginning step toward attracting and retaining  teachers and moving public education forward in Idaho.”

The bill’s architects recalculated the career ladder’s cost estimate and presented it differently. The way the two cost estimates are presented makes it difficult to compare the financials, but it appears the new bill calls for more state funding in the first, third and fourth years of the plan, but less money overall. By applying a current salary-based apportionment table included with the first bill to the second bill, it appears the second bill would increase state funding for salaries by $123.2 million over five years.

The old bill would have increased funding for salaries by $125.6 million.

Upon full implementation in 2019-20, teacher salaries would break down as follows:

  • Residency teachers: $37,000 to $39,000.
  • Professional teachers: $42,500 to $50,000.

The Legislature’s earlier version of the career ladder outlined the same salary levels.

The public did not testify on the proposal, in keeping with tradition for introductory hearings. The bill is expected to come back to the committee for a full hearing in the near future – at which point public testimony traditionally would be accepted – but a hearing date was not announced Wednesday.

The stakes appear to be high in the teacher salary showdown. The Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee put its work setting next year’s school budget on hold until a deal is reached on teacher salaries. Adjournment of the legislative session is also up in the air as the debate continues.