Teachers still waiting on master educator premium bonuses

The wait continues for hundreds of Idaho teachers who still haven’t received word on whether they will receive financial bonuses designed to reward Idaho’s best veteran teachers.

The State Board of Education is in the process of completing a third review evaluation of the application portfolios from some of the teachers who applied for master educator premiums, State Board spokesman Mike Keckler said.

“That process is going on right now and we just sent out notification to the applicants so they know what is going on,” Keckler said. “We hope to have it wrapped up and notification (of whether teachers will receive a premium) out in the next few weeks.”

Created by the Legislature, the master educator premiums are a $4,000 per year bonus that is designed to reward the highest performing veteran teachers in the state. The premiums renew for three years, bringing their total value for a successful applicant to $12,000 unless they stop teaching.

Last summer, 653 teachers applied for the premium. They hoped to receive word of whether they’d receive a premium by fall and expected to have the money already.

But the ongoing coronavirus pandemic and disruptions to the education system overwhelmed the State Board. It took the State Board and its portfolio reviewers longer than expected to get through the initial reviews. One factor complicating the review was the State Board wanted to have reviews outside of an applicant’s local area review the portfolios. Many applicants and reviewers tended to come from the same well-populated regions.

As for where the process stands today, a set of third reviewers is being brought into review application portfolios in instances where the initial reviewers disagreed over whether the teacher should earn the premium, Keckler said.

Each application portfolio is reviewed by two different evaluators. If they agree, the matter is settled. But if they disagree a third reviewer is brought in. Keckler estimated the third review applies to less than half of the applicants.

“We appreciate everyone’s patience. This has been a very busy year for the entire staff and we hope to get these completed soon,” Keckler said.

Fewer teachers applied for the premiums this school year than last. Last year, 1,397 educators applied for the premiums and 1,307 of them received premiums. That was down to 653 applicants before this school year.

The program has faced delays and criticism throughout its existence. Two years ago, teachers said the application process was too cumbersome, requiring some teachers to spend 80-120 hours on their portfolios.

At one point state officials estimated 8,000 to 10,000 teachers would meet the eligibility criteria. But thousands of teachers, including some of Idaho’s most decorated, did not even apply.

At any rate, this school year’s class of applicants is the final one. Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature are phasing the program out in favor of building out the career ladder salary allocation system.

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