Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Idaho teachers are the working poor

Levi Cavener

Idahoans are a hard-working, ambitious bunch of people. They don’t look for hand-outs. All any Idaho family wants is a fair shot at success no matter where they live. So why do nearly 4 in 10 Idaho families (37%) live at or near the poverty line?

The answer, according to a 2016 study, is pretty simple: wages. Idahoans make nationally low salaries. Why? Just consider the numbers: Idaho left more than 6,300 family-supporting STEM-related jobs unfilled last year which would have brought in $412 million in wages. The average STEM job ($30/hour) pays about double the average wage of a non-STEM job ($15/hour).

Levi Cavener

Why are those jobs going unfilled? Because Idaho is not fulfilling its constitutional duty to provide a uniform and thorough education to our children. In other words, we are not providing our kids with the skills they need to get one of those family-supporting jobs that go unfilled every year.

It doesn’t help that many Idaho teachers are among the working poor in this state.

Much has been made of increasing base salaries for Idaho’s teachers through the tiered licensure initiative (“Career Ladder”) to $38,500 this year and $40,000 next year. While that sounds like a raise, research shows Idaho’s teachers have actually lost 6.4% of their compensation when adjusted for inflation compared to ten years ago. We are losing ground, not gaining it.

Let’s break down a paycheck for a first year Idaho teacher. The $38,500 equals $3,208 per month. In raw terms, that doesn’t sound so bad. However, any Idahoan knows that $3,208 goes pretty quick – especially if you are raising a family.

Let’s start with the standard federal income tax deduction.  Accounting for changes in federal tax law and a 12% tax bracket, $2,990 gets sent to Uncle Sam this year, or roughly $250 a month.

The monthly paycheck is now down to $2,958.

Then comes deductions for our country’s entitlement programs, better known as FICA on pay stubs.  It is currently set at 7.65%, meaning $2,945 of those dollars will be sent to Washington, D.C. That’s another $250 a month.

Our teacher’s paycheck is now down to $2,708.

Then comes Idaho’s income tax. Idaho has a graduated tax formula making the math slightly more complicated, but ultimately the Gem State will want $1687 of a teacher’s salary, or about $140 a month.

The monthly check is now down to $2,568.

Idaho requires a contribution to its PERSI program. For a teacher, that rate is 6.79% or $2,614 resulting in a $220 monthly deduction. We understand PERSI is an investment, but it’s a compulsory deduction nonetheless.

Our teacher’s paycheck is now down to $2,348.

Then there’s healthcare. While this line item is negotiated district by district, it’s expensive no matter where you live. Let’s assume the hypothetical teacher lives in the Vallivue School District as I do. To purchase family coverage with a $5,000 deductible, the monthly premium will cost $756 per month.

Our teacher’s monthly paycheck just sank to $1,592. By the way, what happens if this teacher actually has to come out-of-pocket for the $5,000 deductible?

It’s not over. Let’s assume this teacher did far better than the Idaho state average (more than $26,000), and only accumulated $15,000 in student loan debt. At a 10-year repayment plan and current rate of 6.8% interest this teacher can now subtract an additional $173 a month.

Take home pay is now just $1,419.

Let’s assume this teacher lives in Canyon County to save on rent prices in the Treasure Valley. According to Zillow, the average rent in Canyon County is $1,276 per month.  Even if that teacher somehow finds a steal at $800 per month, their paycheck is now at $619.

Once you add in monthly utilities of $100, that paycheck sinks to $519. That’s before we get to a car payment, groceries, clothes and, well…there’s nothing left. Forget any unexpected emergencies. A starting Idaho teacher’s salary allows no room for a shot transmission, child medical issues or a leaky roof.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Idaho has so many working poor when the people teaching your kids are the very definition of the working poor.  Fortunately, Reclaim Idaho is proposing a ballot initiative to increase state funding for education in the Gem State and help address this situation, and make Idaho a desirable location for both greenhorn and veteran teachers to practice their craft.  Visit ReclaimIdaho.Org to help make it happen.

Written by Levi Cavener, Caldwell, Idaho,

Special series

Idaho’s reading challenge

Idaho has a big education problem, and it starts early.

Fewer than half of Idaho’s kindergartners are ready to learn to read.

Thousands of young children can’t read at grade level. If they don’t catch up by the end of third grade, they’re likely to struggle as long as they stay in school.

To examine the problem — and seek solutions — Idaho Education News reporter Kevin Richert talked to teachers, administrators and parents from West Bonner County to Idaho Falls.

This eight-part series will look at what’s working, and what gets in the way. This series will also look at Idaho’s $26 million investment in literacy, and whether this taxpayer money will make a difference.

Levi Cavener

Levi Cavener

Levi B. Cavener is a teacher living in Caldwell, Idaho. He blogs at IdahosPromise.Org

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday