Otter: Move forward on tiered licensure

(UPDATED, 4:25 p.m., with comments from Ybarra.)

Gov. Butch Otter wants the 2015 Legislature to move forward on a plan to revamp teacher licensing, and a related, $175 million plan to boost teacher pay.

Otter, square, 1.8.15
Gov. Butch Otter fielded reporters’ questions for nearly an hour Thursday, at a legislative preview sponsored by the Associated Press.

A rewritten tiered teacher licensing plan “seems more accommodating,” and enjoys more support from education groups, Otter told reporters Thursday, at a legislative preview sponsored by the Associated Press.

The tiered teacher licensing plan has divided members of Otter’s own party. The Otter-appointed State Board of Education is pushing aggressively for tiered licensure, saying it presents the state with a unique opportunity to boost teacher pay. Newly elected state superintendent Sherri Ybarra has said she would like to slow down the plan, because districts have unanswered questions. However, Ybarra sought to clarify her position in an interview Thursday afternoon.

Meanwhile, education stakeholder groups are not unified behind the plan. Even with the State Board’s rewrite, the Idaho Education Association opposes tiered licensure. This division is a concern to House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley; at a subsequent panel Thursday, Bedke said he didn’t want disagreement over tiered licensure to cloud the budgeting process.

Ultimately, it will be up to the Senate and House education committees to consider tiered licensure — and a rule that would go into effect with the blessing of only one of the committees. Otter says the Legislature should vet the proposal, since lawmakers have the final word. And he said lawmakers should weigh Ybarra’s concerns about going forward against his concerns “about not moving forward.”

In an interview with KIVI/KNIN and Idaho Education News — which will air Thursday night on the two Treasure Valley TV stations — Ybarra said she believes she and Otter are on the same page. She said she wants to see a tiered licensure plan pass this session, since the state can fine-tune the framework of the plan as it goes. But she restated her belief that the state should roll out the career ladder on a pilot basis — as she said in a news conference Tuesday.

Otter, meanwhile, sounds determined to move forward on both components.

He made clear that he considers the tiered licensure plan a prerequisite for boosting teacher pay — and passing the State Board’s career ladder plan that would boost starting salaries from $31,750 to $40,000 and establish top-end salaries of $54,000 to $58,000. Otter said he would not support a pay increase that doesn’t come with built-in accountability, and he said he wouldn’t expect lawmakers to sign on either.

“I hate to bifurcate that question,” Otter said Thursday. “I think they have to go hand in hand.”

During his campaign for a third term, Otter said his 2015-16 budget proposal would contain $23.7 million, enough to cover the first phase of a five-year career ladder rollout.

Fielding reporters’ questions Thursday, Otter divulged few new details about his budget — which he will release in full on Monday, as he opens the 2015 session with his State of the State address.

However, Otter said he will push for an overall increase in K-12 funding, to exceed 2009 spending. He did not elaborate.

But a return to 2008-09 levels could equate to at least a $43.9 million increase, or 3.2 percent. Before Otter and the Legislature imposed unprecedented cuts to K-12, the 2008 Legislature approved a $1.418 billion budget for K-12. The 2014 Legislature passed a $1.375 billion K-12 budget.

A $43.9 million increase would not return districts’ “operational funding” to pre-recession level. The 2014 Legislature put $35 million into this budget — a flexible funding source districts can use to cover rising employee benefit costs, reduce class sizes or cover utilities costs. However, Otter’s budget-writers have said it would cost an additional $78 million to make districts whole.