Governor claims Idaho ranks in the Top 10 for starting teacher pay. That’s a stretch

It’s a stretch for Gov. Brad Little to claim that Idaho ranks in the top 10 nationally for starting teacher pay.

Little is touting a $47,477 minimum salary, but that’s well above the floor required under state law — and comes in above the minimum pay at more than half of Idaho’s districts and charters.

Idaho might rank in the top 15 nationally for average starting teacher pay — but that’s making a few assumptions along the way. 

Here’s how Little claims to be among the best.

Over the past year, he has frequently said that his administration lifted starting pay for public school teachers to top-10 national rankings. He repeated the vaunt during last week’s annual State of the State address. “We brought Idaho up from the bottom 10 nationally five years ago to now the top 10 for starting teacher pay,” the second-term Republican said.  

Madison Hardy, Little’s spokeswoman, said the claim is supported by rankings from 2020-21, the “then-available data” compiled by the National Education Association. And Hardy pointed to the governor’s “Idaho First” plan, which called for $47,477 starting teacher salaries. 

Lawmakers approved those raises last year, and it’s true that a $47,477 starting teacher salary would have tied Idaho with Connecticut for 10th nationally during the 2020-21 school year.

But that wasn’t Idaho’s starting pay in 2020-21, and it isn’t the current minimum salary in most Idaho public schools. 

Idaho actually ranked 29th for starting pay in 2020-21, then dropped to 30th in 2021-22, the most recent NEA data available. Idaho’s ranking is based on its statutory minimum teacher salary, the least a school district or charter school can pay a teacher, according to state law. 

Here’s a five-year breakdown of those minimums, including next year:  

  • 2020-21: $39,842.
  • 2021-22: $40,369.
  • 2022-23: $40,742.
  • 2023-24: $41,118.
  • 2024-25: $41,500.

So, where did the $47,477 number come from? Last year, as part of his “Idaho First” plan, Little convinced lawmakers to approve an additional $145 million for teacher pay, which was advertised as a $6,359 raise for each teacher. 

Starting teacher pay in 2023-24 was $41,118. Add in the $6,359 raise and, voila: The starting salary reaches $47,477, which was a top 10 starting salary, at one point in time. 

Aside from the outdated rankings, and the assumption that no other state has increased minimum salaries since 2021, there’s another catch: Idaho teacher salaries are set at the local level. Besides the statutory minimum, districts decide how they allocate salary funds from the state. 

School districts did get an additional $145 million for teacher pay this school year, and salaries went up 9.1%, lifting the average teacher salary above $60,000 for the first time, as EdNews recently reported

But the state’s statutory minimum is still $41,118, and school districts could choose how they dished out the new state funding. Some districts, like Coeur d’Alene, raised starting pay to attract new teachers; others, like Kuna, hoping to retain veterans, gave raises to teachers with more experience. 

Not every teacher is currently making at least $47,477. In fact, just 72 school districts and charter schools met that threshold for their minimum salaries this school year, according to an analysis by EdNews. Minimum salaries for another 115 districts and charters are less than $47,477, and 50 districts and charters are paying the statutory minimum. A few dozen are paying more than $47,477. 

Overall, Idaho’s average starting salary in 2023-24 is $45,680. That would have ranked 13th in 2020-21 and 14th in 2021-22.

The bottom line: Idaho might rank in the top 15 nationally for average starting teacher pay — again, assuming other states haven’t surpassed it since 2022. That would be a significant jump from 41st in 2019, but it’s not top 10. 

In an emailed statement to EdNews, Hardy also touted Little’s other “historic investments” in schools, including increasing salaries for experienced teachers and staff, expanding health insurance benefits and increasing literacy intervention funding.

“Education remains Gov. Little’s top priority, and he will continue working with state and education leaders to support the needs of Idaho students and their teachers,” Hardy said.

Idaho EdNews data analyst Randy Schrader contributed to this report. 

Ryan Suppe

Ryan Suppe

Senior reporter Ryan Suppe covers education policy, focusing on K-12 schools. He previously reported on state politics, local government and business for newspapers in the Treasure Valley and Eastern Idaho. A Nevada native, Ryan enjoys golf, skiing and movies. Follow him on Twitter: @ryansuppe. Contact him at [email protected]

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