Study: Despite career ladder, Idaho teacher salaries lose ground

Despite a five-year plan to boost salaries by $250 million, Idaho teacher pay is still losing ground, according to new research released Monday.

And what’s more, Idaho’s salaries are comparable to other red states, where teachers have gone on strike to protest low pay.

“The latest nationwide data show that Idaho now ranks 43rd in the nation for teacher compensation, hovering near many states where teacher strikes occurred this year,” the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy said Monday.

The nonpartisan group based its research brief on numbers from 2016-17 — the early stages of Idaho’s five-year push to boost teacher pay. Legislators passed the $250 million “career ladder” plan in 2015; next winter, they will have to decide whether to fund the plan’s final installment.

But Idaho’s teacher salaries are stuck in a deep hole, according to the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy’s analysis:

  • When adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s teacher earnings dropped by 6.8 percent from 1999-2000 to 2016-17. Nationwide, teacher earnings dropped by 1.8 percent.
  • When adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s average teacher salary came in 20 percent below the national average. Cost of living differences work in Idaho’s favor, but only to an extent. “All told, 20 states are cheaper to live in than Idaho is,” the center said.
  • Low pay could be a factor in another growing trend — the number of teachers who get their jobs after completing alternative authorization programs. More than 900 Idaho teachers took an alternative route to the classroom, a number that has doubled since the start of the decade.
  • Idaho’s average teacher salary comes in just barely higher than Arizona, one of six states where teachers walked out earlier this year over pay issues. Another strike state, Kentucky, pays an average salary more than $4,800 above Idaho’s average.

Amidst the national uproar, teacher pay is a touchy political issue in Idaho. State education leaders bristled over a recent Brookings Institution study, which ranked Idaho dead last in teacher pay. They said the study used old data that predated the career ladder.

“We have momentum, and Idaho is making headway improving teacher salaries,” State Board of Education President Linda Clark said in a July 13 Idaho Education News guest opinion.

The State Board did not comment on Monday’s study. Instead, the board referred to Clark’s guest opinion, which said Idaho teacher salaries have increased by nearly 9 percent in the first three years of the career ladder rollout.

On Monday, state superintendent Sherri Ybarra also hailed the career ladder, which has generally increased pay for beginning teachers and teachers at the lower end of the salary scale. She said Idaho needs to do more for its veteran teachers.

“I’ve made attracting, retaining and fairly compensating Idaho teachers a prime objective throughout my tenure as superintendent of public instruction, and that effort and my commitment to it are far from over,” Ybarra said.

Echoing her own recent guest opinion on teacher salaries, Ybarra again said the national research is mixed. She again cited National Education Association data that said Idaho’s salary increases ranked No. 8 in the nation from 2016 to 2017.

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