More to the point, who is going to teach us?
Idaho is in the midst of a jobs crisis that is only getting worse. In a presentation to the Legislature earlier this year, the STEM Action Center reported that 7,000 STEM-related jobs (science, technology, engineering, math) went unfilled last year in Idaho, resulting in $450,000,000 in unclaimed wages. That’s $51,000 an hour of every hour of every day of the year. That report is the most direct intersection between education and family-supporting jobs we received all year.
Many of those good-paying jobs can be filled by people with career-technical skills, apprenticeships and community college degrees. The problem Idaho faces is: who is going to teach our children well enough so they can “go-on” beyond high school to get the skills needed to fill those jobs? If we don’t value our teachers, what does that say about how we value our own kids’ future?
New reports show that Idaho teacher pay is the lowest, or among the lowest, in the nation. Using currently available U.S. Census Bureau statistics, the centrist Brookings Institute found that pay for all Idaho teachers is the lowest in the nation. Idaho’s kindergarten and pre-K teachers’ salaries are also last in the nation – 18 percent below the national average. The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy found that Idaho ranks 43rd in the nation in teacher compensation.
I realize that’s a lot of numbers. So, what does it mean when you sit down with your family at the kitchen table? It means that after the family dinner hour, Idaho just left $51,000 on the table in unclaimed wages. And by the time you wake up tomorrow, Idaho will have left 19 family-supporting jobs unfilled. Whether you know it or not, many of our children are thinking about leaving Idaho to find opportunities elsewhere.
Our kids deserve the opportunity and the choice to remain in Idaho and to raise their families close to home. Their ability to stay and do that is vanishing — and they will put down roots in other states.
As someone who taught for nearly 40 years in our public schools, I believe that. Idaho’s schools are the Research & Development Department and our teachers are the Chief Information Officers (“CIO’s”). What happens when a CIO gets a better offer from another company? They leave for a place that values their expertise. Just like our teachers. When Washington, Oregon and even Wyoming value their teachers more than Idaho does, naturally, our educators are going to move out of state. Wouldn’t you? If our teachers are leaving this state for places that value them more, what kind of message does that send to our children?
Another recent study (ACT Research and Policy) found that fewer students are considering a career in the education field. That brings up an important business-related principle: if your Research and Development team doesn’t have new ideas in the “pipeline,” the enterprise suffers. For Idaho – and other states that don’t value teachers – the pipeline is getting pretty thin. Without a robust “bench” of teachers waiting to break into the profession, Idaho’s future becomes even more bleak.
We live in a state whose leaders claim to have common sense, but they sure don’t show it. Our children are leaving Idaho in droves for the same reasons our teachers are: because they feel valued elsewhere. Short-changing our schools, our educators and our children is not just bad policy, it’s bad business. Is this the future we want for our kids and our families?
Check your watch. Idaho just left more than $2,000 in wages unclaimed.
Now check your bank account.
Idahoans value family, security and opportunity. So, why don’t the politicians in charge reflect those values? Statistics don’t always tell the story. However, the sight of your child packing their car to leave Idaho forever gives life to the numbers. If Idaho does not start valuing its teachers – and by extension its students – this story may haunt our state for years to come.
Written by Rep. Sally Toone. She represents Camas, Gooding, Lincoln and Blaine counties in the Idaho House of Representatives. She was a teacher for 40 years in Idaho public schools.