Voices from the Idaho EdNews Community

Idaho’s teacher shortage de-mystified


I was able to catch Kevin Richert’s coverage of the recent State Board of Education meeting and the “crisis” contained within. As I read it and thought of Sen. Thayn’s misguided mathematical sorcery for school funding, all I could think is, “wow, this state will do absolutely anything except pay their teachers.” It really is hard to come up with another answer for the unending ouroboros of Idaho’s continual education “crises” and the inevitable jumbling of laws to try to distract public sentiment for a few elections, never solving anything. For my entire life the song has been the same, Idaho schools don’t have enough money for much of anything, teachers pay substantial amounts out of their own pockets, and “gosh why doesn’t anyone want to work here.” It’s a real head scratcher. Further, it is strange that at a time when Gov. Brad Little can’t seem to say 10 words without talking about the glory and genius of the economy he has created, and in a state where free market principles are held so dear, our leaders cannot seem to grasp the simple truth—they don’t pay enough. Thus, according to free market principles of supply and demand, they have a labor shortage.

The article references the State Board President’s celebration of less than 10% of the budget surplus going to schools, and still missing what is termed, the root cause of the problem. The intentional muddying-of-the-waters of Ms. Clark’s statement that while the pay gap is a big factor there are other problems afoot is still a common refrain going back decades as Idaho’s education leaders throw everything at schools to try to help, save the kitchen sink. Well, that, and money. There’s always some other unquantifiable boogeyman in these discussions which always leads to delays or inaction on this issue. It would be one thing if Idaho had tried the higher wages and it failed to attract quality candidates, but we can’t say we’ve ever tried that, can we?

The reference to teachers moving in from out of state was also comical, to me. So, you’re saying a core pillar of our educational employee recruitment strategy was to rely on transplants from other states? A wise man once said, “That’s a bold strategy Cotton, let’s see if it pays off for ‘em.” Though, it does beg the question of why the flow of wandering teachers has stopped. I mean, why wouldn’t teachers want to move here when our legislature’s most innovative education policies bear a striking resemblance to 1930s Germany? Banning books and isolating ‘different’ populations of students might play well in an ALEC meeting but it seems to have had a somewhat deleterious effect on this critical recruitment strategy.

Another quote, this time from the State Board’s chief planning officer, lauds the success of an apprenticeship program developed in Tennessee as a potential solution for our current woes. Yes, let’s further devalue our higher education and make sure those administrators earn that 5% pay raise, which was approved without any heartburn, and create a new teacher hierarchy of degreed and not. That certainly won’t end poorly. But the more befuddling thing about this statement is that it doesn’t actually say… anything? “Really good results.” In what sense? What context? By what measure? I suppose it does make some sense that there wouldn’t be a ton of substance in a comment on the Tennessee program, especially since it has only been in practice for five months. You read that right. The State Board is endorsing a legislative idea which hasn’t even been in practice in Tennessee for a school year. Again, they really will do anything, but, right?

One final comment on the “historical investments” of our wise legislators, in 2014 when the career ladder law was passed, Idaho’s average teacher salaries were $44,205 and they are currently $53,100. Seems like sizable progress, no? No. Especially considering over the last 8 years of climbing the ladder Idaho’s teachers are seeing shrinking buying power and $44,205 in 2014 equates to $54,579 in 2022 purchasing power. Idaho isn’t even keeping up with inflation. They probably know that already and are just hoping you don’t notice. Shhh…the call is coming from inside the house.

Simple answers, pay teachers more, reduce class sizes, pay support staff more, and support Idaho’s education system and students. All it takes is money, and in the words of Idaho’s Legislature and the late Meatloaf, “I’ll do anything, but I won’t do that.”

Torrey Mortenson

Torrey Mortenson

Torrey Mortenson is a human factors scientist at the Idaho National Laboratory, a dad, and lifelong Idaho student. He has advanced degrees in psychology and a bachelor's in philosophy from Idaho State University.

Get EdNews in your inbox

Weekly round up every Friday