Statehouse roundup, 3.25.15: teacher salaries

The $125.5 million teacher salary bill cleared the second-to-last major hurdle Wednesday afternoon when it passed the Senate Education Committee.

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Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene

Committee members advanced the bill just as news spread the Idaho teacher salaries decreased in 2012-13 to the second lowest levels in the country.

“We need to start working immediately to move back up the rankings,” Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene said. “I think this bill is a good start.”

All major education groups, including the Idaho Education Association, Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Rural Schools Association and Idaho Association of School Administrators support the rewritten career ladder. The IEA had been a leading opponent, but called  the newest plan an imperfect but important first step to help the state retain and recruit teachers.

The IEA dropped its opposition after revisions were made to ensure that teachers were given a voice in determining how student achievement would be measured under the bill and that they would not be held accountable for factors outside of their control.

The career ladder is designed to raise minimum teacher salaries and provide state funding for all teachers to receive a raise in each of the five years the ladder is phased in.

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

  • Residency teachers in their first three years in the profession: $37,000 to $39,000.
  • Professional teachers with more than three years of experience: $$42,500 t0 $50,000.

The ladder is also laden with incentives to boost pay for teachers who continue their education, earn a master’s degree or meet state and local benchmarks to become a master teacher. The career ladder would be paired with the existing leadership premium salary bonuses the Legislature approved last year.

The career ladder next heads to the Senate floor. If it passes there, the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee is expected to quickly resume work setting the 2015-16 school budget with teacher raises factored in.

The career ladder passed the House 62-8 Monday after two earlier versions of the proposal were scrapped.

Click here to read the entire 34-page career ladder bill.

In other Statehouse action Wednesday:

Alternative schools. The House Education Committee advanced a bill Wednesday designed to expand alternative school services to sixth-graders.

Under current practice, alternative school funding is available for grades seven through 12. But Rep. Lance Clow is hoping to change that, because many districts have adopted a middle school configuration for sixth- through eighth-graders.

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Superintendent Wiley Dobbs

The new bill would simply extend that funding to make it available for sixth grade.

Twin Falls Superintendent Wiley Dobbs backed the bill, saying it would allow sixth-graders to attend the Twin Falls Bridge Academy alternative school, which earned four stars under the state’s five-star rating system.

“Intervention opportunities should be supported as early as possible to help students get back on track,” Dobbs told lawmakers.

Dobbs, Twin Falls teacher Peggy Hoy, the Idaho School Boards Association, Idaho Association of School Administrators and Idaho Education Association all backed the bill.

Clow estimates the bill would cost $712,000 if the same number of sixth graders as seventh graders enrolled in alternative schools — although he expressed hope it would actually cost less.

House Bill 300 next heads to the House floor.

Alternative contracts. The Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that is aimed at encouraging outside investment in early learning programs.

Under the “pay for success” contract program, third parties would pay to develop new education programs — and receive money only if the programs meet the state’s education performance goals. An outside party would gauge the success of the programs.

The Boise-based nonprofit Lee Pesky Learning Center is interested in using the legislation to partner on early reading programs.

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Sen. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene

Sponsoring Sen. Bob Nonini touted House Bill 170 as an alternative to publicly funded pre-kindergarten — and Sen. Janie Ward-Engelking, D-Boise, said the bill would allow the state to pilot new ideas “with absolutely no risk.”

Sen. Dan Schmidt, D-Moscow, argued against the bill, suggesting it may violate the state’s constitutional mandate to provide a uniform public school system. Other senators said the bill raises constitutional questions, but supported it anyway.

With the Senate’s 34-1 vote, the bill goes back to the House. The House has already passed the bill, but now must consider the Senate’s amendments.

Charter schools. House Education introduced a pair of charter school bills.

The first is considered a “trailer bill” because it follows behind other bills – in this case the $125.5 million teacher salary career ladder.

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Rep. Lance Clow, R-Twin Falls

The newer bill pertains to so-called “use it or lose it” staffing flexibility program that allows schools to hire 9.5 percent fewer instructional staffers than the state funds. The bill clarifies those provisions for charter schools and was fast-tracked by the committee to the House floor.

The second bill would create a debt reserve fund for charter schools.

Clow also pushed this bill, saying charter schools have a difficult time paying for building projects.

“Charters, when they go out to market to borrow money, quite often pay higher interest rates than you might find for traditional public schools,” Clow said. “This could be used to offset some of that risk to lenders.”

The charter school reserve fund bill does not call for any specific funding levels, and would include restrictions designed to make it difficult for charters to access the money and draw the fund down.

In order to be eligible to tap into the money, charters would need to first demonstrate strong financial footing for three years. Additionally they would not be able to draw from the fund for more than two years in order to pay the rent.

Emily McClure, a lobbyist working with the Idaho Charter School Network, backed the bill.

If the proposal is to advance, it will come back to House Education for a full hearing – although timing may be an issue working against the bill at this late juncture of the session.

Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert contributed to this report.