I want to explain my vote regarding teacher compensation while I served as a member of Gov. Little’s “Our Kids, Idaho’s Future” Task Force.
I appreciate teachers reaching out to me to ask why I voted “no” on supporting an expansion of the state’s “career ladder.” I voted no because I don’t believe it’s the best way to compensate Idaho teachers, especially teachers who serve in rural areas.
And here’s why:
The money generated by the career ladder is sent to districts in a lump sum. Local teachers unions and school boards negotiate local salary increases and determine how the money will be distributed across their local salary schedule. (A single exception is the minimum starting salary for first-year teachers. The minimum salary, by law, will be $40,000 starting in the fall of 2020.)
I’m not convinced expanding the career ladder would solve the current inequities in teacher pay across the state. Some districts average more than $70,000 in salaries while others average less than $40,000. Another report indicates the average veteran teacher salary in Idaho is already over $60,000.
There is no guarantee that funding a third rung of the career ladder would reduce the salary disparity — over $30,000 among school districts — or keep veteran teachers in Idaho classrooms.
Here’s what I do support:
First, let’s agree to a funding formula that would allow significantly more flexibility with the use of state funds. This would be a more equitable and transparent solution to improving teacher compensation in Idaho.
Second, let’s resolve health care benefits. Right now, like salaries, those are bargained locally with the funds the state sends for benefits. In some cases districts are able to supplement with discretionary funding sent by the state, or locally-levied funds, which charters do not have access to.
A group of teachers I met with last month said the cost to include families on their health insurance plan was over $900 per month for what amounts to almost catastrophic coverage because the deductible is so high – several thousand dollars. Their story is not unique around the state.
Third, imagine a “career ladder” that was an actual ladder where teachers could do what they do best: remain connected to students in the classroom instead of going into administration as a way to increase their compensation. Many high-performing countries use this model as well as a growing number of states.
A teacher could enter the profession and, over time, as their expertise and effectiveness increase, move up to become a senior teacher, mentor teacher or master teacher with commensurate salary increases along the way.
I realize we have a way to go, but the Legislature has made great gains in recent years for teacher compensation, including veteran teachers:
Bonuses. More than 1,000 master teachers will receive $12,000 in bonuses over the next three years. Though not all veteran teachers applied for this status, we do have true master teachers serving our children.
Leadership stipends. $18.4 million this year, $86.2 million over the past five years. These are stipends designed for more experienced teachers who have developed expertise that would enable them to serve in a leadership role. They are a minimum of $900 but can be up to 25 percent of the state’s minimum salary for any teacher who serves in a leadership capacity as defined by the local school district or charter school.
Master’s Degrees. By state law, $3,500 per teacher is sent to each school district and charter for teachers with a Master’s Degree. These are more frequently teachers who have been in the profession a number of years and have chosen to pursue additional education.
Salary increases. The Legislature has put at least $100 million a year in public education in each of the last five years and in each of the last five years educators have received raises.
Starting teacher salary. Lawmakers are committed to $11.4 million to increase minimum salaries to $40,000 next school year. That means every teacher in Idaho — no matter their age, experience or zip code — will receive at least $40,000.
I’m proud to have supported all of these increases to compensation.
Next for teacher compensation, I want to put more resources into the hands of local school districts and charters to build creative compensation systems that suit their local circumstances – large or small, rural or urban or somewhere in between.
So please understand, I voted no because I believe there is a better path and I am committed to working with my colleagues and with educators to forge it.