State Board says teacher bonus review process nearly complete

The long wait could soon be over for hundreds of Idaho teachers who have been wondering for months if they will earn financial bonuses intended to reward the state’s master teachers.

The State Board of Education’s review team is in the final stages of conducting tie-breaking reviews for teachers who applied for the master educator premiums.

“We expect the third reviews to be completed by early next week,” State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said. “Barring any last-minute problems, we should be able to notify MEP applicants by the end of next week.”

Created by the Legislature, the master educator premiums are a $4,000 per year bonus that is designed to reward Idaho’s highest-performing veteran teachers. The premiums renew for three years, so they are worth $12,000 in total to a recipient as long as they don’t stop teaching.

However, the program has been beset by problems and delays since its rollout.

Last summer, 653 teachers applied for a premium. They hoped to receive notification of whether they had successfully earned a premium by the fall, and they expected to have the money before the end of 2020.

But State Board officials have said the coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented disruptions to the education system overwhelmed the State Board.

Each teacher’s application includes a detailed portfolio providing evidence of mastery and it took the State Board longer than expected to get through the initial reviews.

There were several complicating factors. The State Board wanted to have reviewers outside an applicant’s home region screen the portfolios — but most applicants and the pool of reviewers alike tended to come from the same well-populated regions.

Additionally, nearly half of the 653 portfolios required an extra, tie-breaking review because the first two reviewers did not agree on whether the applicant should receive a premium.

Last year’s premium rollout program also faced delays. And teachers reported that it took as long as 80-120 hours to complete their portfolios.

The state estimated at one point 8,000-10,000 teachers would meet the eligibility requirements. But for one reason or another, thousands of teachers who could have earned a premium, including some of Idaho’s most decorated, did not apply.

In the program’s first year, 1,397 teachers applied for the premiums and 1,307 of them earned them.

This year’s applicant pool was less than half of that, at 653 applicants.

Once the State Board notifies recipients, the State Department of Education will send the money for the premiums out to the recipients’ school district or charter school. It will be up to them to determine how to distribute the money to the recipients via payroll, Keckler said.

Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction for Communications and Policy Marilyn Whitney said Thursday the SDE has not yet received data about the new group of MEP recipients. That’s not surprising though, considering the State Board said they hope to wrap up the review process next week.

Whatever happens, this will be the last class of MEP applicants and recipients. Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature passed a law in 2020 to phase the premium program out and replace it with a new rung and endorsement on Idaho’s career ladder salary allocation system.

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