BOISE – Idaho Gov. Butch Otter signed a major teacher-pay bill into law Thursday, saying the measure marks a “historic” legislative session for Idaho that overcame years of bitter school-reform debates. “We focused on what we should’ve been focusing on all the time, and that was the student in the classroom,” the governor said.
The education funding plan commits the state to $125 million in additional money for teacher pay over the next five years; the first year’s installment at more than $33 million already has been included in the school budget for next year.
“I am committing that I am going to be proposing full funding,” Otter said, as long as he’s governor, and “within our means.”
The GOP governor called the teacher-pay bill, the final version of which won wide and enthusiastic support from all sides, a model for the other issues remaining before lawmakers this year – especially transportation funding.
“I don’t ever remember a legislative session that was so focused by both sides of the aisle, by both sides of the rotunda, on the future,” he said. “We’ve spent years scratch and patch. We’ve spent years saying, ‘This is what we’re going to do next year.’ ”
Otter said he’s hopeful of a multiyear plan for transportation funding as well. The House passed an ambitious bill to boost the state’s gas tax that also would cut the top income tax rates and repeal the sales tax on groceries. The Senate killed it without debate.
On Thursday, the Senate Transportation Committee sent a bill to raise vehicle registration fees to the Senate’s amending order, where any senator may offer amendments.
Senate Assistant Majority Leader Chuck Winder, R-Boise, said, “Hopefully as we go through this process, we’ll inch ever closer to a mutually agreeable solution.”
Idaho lawmakers had hoped to end their session by March 27. They acknowledged this week that the session will last at least into next week.
Despite the delays, lawmakers said the teacher-pay bill was a big success. It increases state funding for teacher pay at all experience levels each year for the next five years, as long as teachers meet performance standards. Teachers also could earn additional pay for achieving “master teacher” status, for additional educational degrees, and for leadership.
Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, praised the progress from what she called the “pitchfork hearing” on the first version of the bill, when teachers came from all over the state to raise objections to the final consensus version. “This had a really rough beginning,” she said. “To have everybody come in at the end of the day and enthusiastically support it, I think was a triumph.”
House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, said, “It’s a turning point for the education system here in the state.”
Penny Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, the state teachers union, said, “They listened to teachers. … They took to heart the things that teachers were telling them that were coming directly from the classroom.”
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