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Wednesday, September 18, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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News >  Idaho

Opposition to Idaho teacher-pay bill delays education budget vote

BOISE – Teachers from across Idaho traveled to the Capitol this week to speak against a controversial teacher performance-pay plan, and now the bill – which is the centerpiece of this year’s legislative session – is dead.

A new bill is in the works, but likely will lengthen this year’s session beyond the hoped-for March 27 adjournment.

House Education Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, said Wednesday he wanted to hold the $125 million, five-year teacher “career ladder” pay bill and propose a new one.

“With some minor tweaks, this could be a better bill,” he said.

The Legislature’s joint budget committee had planned to set the public schools budget – the largest single piece of Idaho’s state budget – this morning. But after hearing about the delay on the teacher pay bill, Senate Finance Chairman Dean Cameron, R-Rupert, said they’ll hold off, and won’t set it this week. Taking action on school funding without the results of the teacher-pay debate “puts us in a precarious position,” Cameron said.

The House Education Committee took five and a half hours of testimony on the teacher pay bill on Tuesday; 56 people testified. Forty-eight spoke against the bill, and eight in favor.

“Please don’t pass the bill till you’ve considered the reasons so many teachers are opposed,” Meghan Cramer of Potlatch told the lawmakers.

Derek Kohles, a Lake City High School teacher and president of the Coeur d’Alene Education Association, said the strings tied to teacher raises in the bill, including evaluations and student performance measures, are “a disincentive to teaching in the state.”

“The real problem is a shortage of educators willing to work in this state,” Kohles said. “They are voting with their feet. We are seeing it.”

But DeMordaunt opened the hearing saying the most important part of the bill is its focus on student growth and achievement.

“If we don’t focus on that, then I believe that all we’re doing is ultimately in vain,” he declared.

Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, said teachers weren’t involved in drafting the bill, and they should have been.  While the focus is raising teacher pay over five years – with starting salaries set to rise from the current $31,750 to $37,000 by the fifth year – the bill only includes a 1.4 percent increase in starting teacher pay the first year.

“Educators statewide are rightfully concerned that the money for Years 2 through 5 will never materialize,” Cyr said. “As we all know, when people are excluded there is no buy-in.”

The bill would raise the money the state allocates for teacher salaries – school districts make the final decision on how much to pay teachers – in increments based on increasing experience and education, if teachers meet proficiency standards. It also includes a new annual premium for “master teachers,” and continues leadership bonuses for which teachers are eligible.

State schools Superintendent Sherri Ybarra is opposing the bill, calling instead for a 3 percent raise for teachers next year and more study of the bill’s concepts.

Meridian teacher Warren Tourangeau told the committee, “There is a fire burning – teacher shortage is a fire. And this bill is going to throw gasoline on it.”

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