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Idaho sets teacher pay funding

BOISE – Idaho lawmakers set state funding for teacher raises for the coming year at 2.2 percent Tuesday, while setting aside 3 percent to boost the minimum salary for starting teachers.

At a time when state employees are getting 3 percent overall and Washington lawmakers are debating whether teachers there should get 4 percent or 5 percent next year, the decision left Idaho’s teachers union smarting.

“We all want to recruit and retain highly qualified teachers, and this just doesn’t quite get us there,” said Sherri Wood, president of the Idaho Education Association.

It took the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee two hours of rancorous debate and several divided votes to agree on a $23.8 million budget for the teacher pay portion of the public school budget, which finally passed 12-8.

“I’m trying to accomplish putting the money where it makes the most difference,” said state Rep. Cliff Bayer, R-Boise, who engineered the teacher pay plan.

Bayer earmarked enough money to increase Idaho’s minimum teacher salary by 3 percent, from $31,000 to $31,930, and to raise base salaries for those teachers who’ve taught for 14 years or more by 3 percent. But he included no base salary increase for those in the middle, because Bayer said they already would get step increases under the state’s teacher salary grid for their increased experience.

However, it’s up to school districts to decide how they pay teachers, beyond the minimum salary – all the state does is provide a pot of money, based on the grid. So the result is simply a 2.2 percent increase in state funding for base salaries. State employees this year are getting a 3 percent increase in funding for their salaries, with 1 percent of that across the board and 2 percent distributed through merit raises.

State Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, joined Bayer in pushing his plan, saying he wanted to take the nearly $1 million saved on teacher salaries and use it to fund a concurrent enrollment program to pay for college classes for needy high school students who’ve passed the 10th grade Idaho Standards Achievement Test.

“We’re gonna take the money and give it to the poor kids, so if you want to argue against that, let’s go,” Wood declared.

State Sen. Shawn Keough, R-Sandpoint, spoke out against trying to change the state’s teacher pay system through a budget allocation. Keough said districts will make up the shortfall, because they’re required to do so by contract. So they’ll cut elsewhere, whether it’s by cutting educational programs or supplies or going to voters to raise property taxes – the very property taxes that lawmakers tried to lower in a special session in 2006.

She proposed an alternative plan to simply fund 3 percent for base increases for teachers and not change the minimum teacher salary this year. It failed on a 9-11 vote. State Sen. Joyce Broadsword, R-Sagle, and Rep. Shirley Ringo, D-Moscow, backed Keough’s plan, but North Idaho Sen. Jim Hammond, R-Post Falls, and Reps. George Eskridge, R-Dover, and Frank Henderson, R-Post Falls, opposed it and backed Bayer’s plan instead.