House Minority Leader John Rusche doesn’t think there’s any chance the Legislature will raise starting teacher pay to $40,000.
Part of that is rooted in animosity. After the bitter debate over Propositions 1, 2 and 3, said Rusche, some legislators believe Idaho teachers are “in it for the money.”
There is more to the equation, as Rusche said in an Idaho Education News interview earlier this week. In many rural communities, teaching jobs are seen as relatively high-paying jobs, said Rusche, D-Lewiston. And that’s under the current salary structure, which includes a $31,000 starting salary.
To put Rusche’s remark into context, here are some numbers from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.
In March 2012, Idaho’s average weekly wage was $692, translating to $35,984 a year. But in 23 of the state’s 44 counties, the average weekly wage was below $597 — or $31,044 a year. In other words, even a starting teacher salary is at or above the average weekly wage in more than half of the state’s counties.
Members of Gov. Butch Otter’s education task force make several arguments for their six-year, $253 million career ladder proposal, which also would raise salaries for veteran teachers to $50,000 to $60,000. They believe it would give Idaho college students an incentive to go into teaching, allow Idaho to keep good teachers from fleeing for higher-paying jobs elsewhere, and tie teacher pay to job performance. Otter has endorsed the task force’s 21 recommendations — although he has hinted that the first priority is restoring $82.5 million in school budget cuts dating back to the recession.
But as Rusche indicates, the fate of the salary ladder may come down to how legislators feel about teachers, and current teacher pay.
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More reading: Statehouse reactions to the task force recommendations.