Is the call for adequate teacher pay in Idaho being heard?

I left the teaching profession almost six years ago, for a few reasons.

I’d be lying if I said my salary wasn’t one of them.

Three of my four years in the classroom were marked by paychecks hobbled by the Great Recession. Teacher pay was just one thing placed on the chopping block after the 2008 crash.

But the landscape was changing when I left in 2015. Idaho’s teachers went on to receive five consecutive years of raises and a notable boost to the state’s minimum teacher salary, which was around $32,000 in my district when I started. Veteran teachers became eligible for “master teacher premiums” to help pad their salaries.

Has it been enough?

That’s not for me to say. But I can walk through some key numbers and findings, and how Gov. Brad Little’s education wishlist from his recent State of the State address could help keep teacher salaries climbing.

Rewind to 2015, when lawmakers passed the five-year teacher salary “career ladder,” a $250 million plan to successively boost salaries statewide, especially for teachers at the outset of their careers.

It was a big commitment, and a big question was whether or not lawmakers would follow through.

They did. By 2020, average salaries had jumped by 12.5% since the career ladder began. Idaho’s minimum teacher salary had climbed to $40,000, thanks to the 2019 Legislature’s approval of Little’s two-year plan to boost starting teacher pay.

That’s not all. Veteran teachers had become eligible for $12,000 each in master teacher premiums, something that thousands had earned by 2021.

The 2020-21 statewide average teacher salary of $50,794 slipped slightly from the prior year’s $51,691 after COVID prompted a temporary salary freeze. But the 2021-22 K-12 school budget fully funded another year of raises under continuation of the career ladder plan. In 2021, Little sought and received $44.9 million in new money for the career ladder. EdNews will report the latest salary averages when they come available.

Increased investments from the last half-decade are undeniable, and they have made a difference. Interestingly, the Idaho Education Association did not address teacher salaries as a funding need earlier this year.

But any salary hike is also a race against inflation. And as prices, from common goods to housing, have risen to head-scratching levels during the pandemic, questions about whether the state has done enough linger.

“Teacher pay in Idaho remains lower than the inflation-adjusted levels seen before the Great Recession — when revenue losses resulted in significant pay cuts,” the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy wrote in a 2021 study on teacher pay.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan think tank compared “inflation-adjusted” teacher salaries from 2009-10 to 2019-20. Key findings:

  • The average teacher salary fell from almost $55,000 in 2009 to less than $53,000 in 2019, when inflation was a consideration.
  • The state’s veteran teachers did not see the same increases in pay as entry-level teachers (though master teacher premiums have helped put more money in their pockets in recent years).
  • Idaho surpassed Montana and Utah in a regional pay comparison, but it still fell behind Nevada, Wyoming, Oregon and Washington.

“Making matters worse,” the study pointed out, “teachers’ salary losses have occurred alongside sharply rising rents and home prices. Idaho rents have increased by a staggering 32 percent from June 2020 to June 2021, with average rents going from $888 in June 2020 to $1,091 in June 2021.”

Maybe the governor saw these or similar numbers before giving his State of the State last week. Maybe he didn’t. Either way, keeping teacher pay on the up and up was a theme. With an unprecedented projected state surplus of $1.9 billion on the horizon, the governor floated roughly $300 million in new money for K-12 next year, an 11% increase.

Proposed line items include:

  • A 10% boost in state dollars available for teacher pay raises.
  • A $1,000 bonus for every teacher.
  • A $105 million line item to help cover schools’ health insurance premiums.

And Little hopes to invest in other ways, including a 5% pay bump for classified staff. Go here for a more on the governor’s speech.

Of course, Little’s proposals are still proposals. But they carry the clout of the office he holds.

Stay with EdNews for full coverage of the 2022 legislative session to see how the governor’s K-12 wishlist shakes out in the coming months.

Devin Bodkin

About Devin Bodkin

EdNews assistant editor and reporter Devin Bodkin is a former high school English teacher who specializes in stories about charter schools and educating students who live in poverty. He lives and works in East Idaho. Follow Devin on Twitter @dsbodkin. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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