Idaho’s teacher retention rate dropped to 89.5% in 2022, down slightly from the 90.8% recorded in 2021, according to data released this month from the State Board of Education.
Despite the drop, Idaho still retains almost nine out of 10 of its approximately 19,000 teachers.
At the end of June 2022, schools faced about 900 vacancies and, at the beginning of the 2022 school year, about 134 positions remained open, according to an October Idaho State Board analysis.
Most of Idaho’s large districts lost teachers over the past year, with the exception of Pocatello, and some experienced losses of 4 percentage points. This is notable because studies indicate that turnover leads to lower student achievement.
The reasons for the drops in teacher retention varied from unaffordable housing in urban communities, teacher pay and resources.
Idaho’s drop in teacher retention reflected trends in other states. Rates in Washington, Maryland, Louisiana and North Carolina all dropped by at least 2 percentage points, according to an analysis by national news organization Chalkbeat.
“The teacher pipeline isn’t what it used to be,” said Boise School District communication specialist Ryan Hill. “There are not as many candidates in college as there have been. How do you attract people from other professions to become teachers?”
An October EdNews survey showed that while over 90% of teachers planned on returning to their job, only about half were satisfied with their work conditions. Stressors included overwork, underpayment, student behavioral issues and eventual burnout. Tops on the list of concerns was “lack of respect.” More than eight of 10 of the 811 survey respondents did not feel respected.
“The most important variable in teacher retention is feeling valued and appreciated for the hours they devote to their students,” Bonneville superintendent Scott Woolstenhulme said.
Former teacher and chair of Idaho’s House Education Committee Rep. Julie Yamamoto agreed.
“The key to retaining teachers in Idaho has not changed from when I started my teaching career over 40 years ago. It boils down to respect,” Yamamoto said. “Respect is shown in various ways, but at the core, it is a basic appreciation of the people who are willing to invest in our children, our future.”
Get the rates for all districts and charters here.
An October state report dissected Idaho’s drop in teacher retention
Most of Idaho teacher openings are in hard to fill positions such as special education, math and science, according to a State Board of Education October 2022 report.
In these cases, the report points out, schools are left to fill positions with under experienced and emergency-certified professionals not trained for the classroom duties. In some urban communities like Boise, a drop in retention is relatable to a lack of affordable housing.
“It used to be that salaries and benefits were pretty high and hiring just happened,” Hill said. “Now, conditions have changed in the valley. Home prices, for one. It’s not affordable for a first-year teacher to take out a $600,000 to $1 million mortgage.”
Why teachers are leaving some of Idaho’s large districts
In Nampa, which experienced a four percentage point drop in retention, it’s a challenge to compete with Boise and West Ada because of the latter districts can afford to pay its teachers more, said Nampa’s communication director Kathleen Tuck.
“We do see some teachers leaving every year for higher pay,” Tuck said in an email. (Click here to compare average teacher salaries).
Gov. Brad Little and the Legislature increased teacher pay by $6,359, to help with retention. But state dollars don’t solve the inequalities created by supplemental levies.
“The rise of supplemental levies over the past decade has created enormous gaps in teacher compensation across the state,” Woolstenhulme told Ed News.
Bonneville teachers make close to $5,000 less than nearby Idaho Falls, per EdNews data. Unlike its neighbor, Bonneville was also unable to afford the state insurance plan for its educators.
Woolstenhulme asserts that Bonneville “intentionally works to have a strong focus on creating positive school cultures, but some teachers simply cannot pass up the opportunity to bring home extra pay and benefits for their families.”
How Pocatello keeps its teachers
Director of human resources Brenda Miner credits the district’s focus on supporting its staff as an integral element to keeping these teachers in Pocatello, where retention improved to 91%.
“We’ve really worked with providing mental health for our teachers,” Miner said. “This means offering opportunities through raising awareness about services available to deal with mental health.”
Pocatello offers this support to teachers through the Making Sense of Your Worth program. Pocatello also provides a scaffolded program for its first year teachers, immersing them in a three-year mentorship program supported by an external partner and a peer teacher.
In order to create uniformity and easy onboarding, the district gathers every summer to revise and re-hammer systematic curriculum for each subject. The purpose is for teachers and students to be on the same steps of development so that everyone is supported across the school system.