Thousands of Idaho teachers who have applied for and earned bonuses for being at the top of their field are facing an uncertain wait to be paid.
On Wednesday, officials with the State Board of Education and State Department of Education said they have no estimate for when they will complete the review of master educator premium applications and issue payments to schools.
State officials originally said they would notify applicants in August whether they would earn a bonus or not.
The lack of a timetable also applies to teachers who earned master educator premiums last year. The SDE is verifying employment data that was uploaded last month before cutting checks.
“I don’t think that’s really right,” said Kristie Scott, a West Jefferson teacher who earned a premium last year but has not been paid this year’s installment of the bonus.
“We did our part. We did our jobs and now you’re backing out.”
Created by the Legislature, the premiums are a $4,000 per year bonus that automatically renews for three years. The total value for a successful applicant is $12,000, unless they stop teaching.
There are two issues holding up payments. The State Board and its portfolio reviewers have not finished evaluating the application portfolios from the 653 teachers who applied for the premiums this year.
“We can’t estimate when applicants will be notified,” State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said Wednesday. “The pandemic response has taken up nearly all of our time in recent months, but we are working hard to move forward with the MEP portfolio review process.”
The second issue applies to all 1,307 teachers like Scott who earned a premium last year, but haven’t been paid for it this year. SDE officials are cleaning up and correcting data that was submitted by schools in October, Director of Communications Karlynn Laraway said Wednesday.
The SDE is validating the recipients to make sure the state sends the correct payments to the right schools.
“That just takes some time and we don’t have a firm timeline,” Laraway said.
Scott said she’s talked to teaching colleagues in larger, neighboring districts who are frustrated.
Teachers reported spending 80-120 hours compiling and filling out the application portfolios. They said they had deadlines to hit in order to apply and are frustrated the state has not sent checks for educators who already earned them. (The state did extend the initial application deadline from June 30, 2019 to July 5, 2019 to ensure tech problems didn’t prevent teachers from uploading their applications. About 150 teachers took advantage of the one-week extension). Scott wondered why the SDE had to wait for the data upload in October, instead of using the teacher’s application portfolio on file to verify employment and send the payments earlier.
She’s also worried that the bonus money might not arrive util 2021, which could have tax impacts and would mean the money isn’t available for holiday shopping or extra bills that may have come up due to COVID-19.
“It’s just frustrating they never bothered to tell us,” Scott said. “They said we’d get three payments. They never told us there would be a delay.”
The master educator premium program has experienced delays and pushback since its first rollout.
Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature phased the program out earlier this year. That means this year’s class of applicants was the last to apply for the premiums.