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Legislature introduces $125 million career ladder

Boise High SchoolIdaho lawmakers in the House Education Committee introduced a salary bill March 4 that is designed to increase spending on teacher pay by $125.6 million over five years.

After getting a sneak preview of draft legislation outlining the plan on February 27, committee members voted to formally introduce the career ladder bill, Idaho Education News reported.

The 33-page proposal has been revised slightly since Feb. 27, but many hallmarks are the same.

Upon implementation in 2019-20, the career ladder would increase minimum teacher salaries to $37,000. Master teachers with at least eight years of experience and an advanced degree would be able to earn up to $57,500 – if they meet a series of state and local performance benchmarks.

State law now sets a minimum teacher salary of $31,750. The career ladder would bring minimum salaries to $32,200 for 2015-16 – an increase of 1.4 percent.

The career ladder would create two basic salary rungs for teachers. The first is a residency rung, for teachers in the first three years of their career. The second is a professional endorsement rung for teachers with three or more years of experience who meet performance benchmarks including teacher evaluations and demonstrating student growth.

For the 2019-20 school year, state funding for teachers would break down as follows:

Residency teachers: $37,000 – $39,000.

Professional teachers: $42,500 – $50,000.

On top the of residency and professional rungs, teachers with eight or more years experience who earn a master’s degree and who obtain an additional professional endorsement would earn additional pay, which is where the $57,500 figure comes in.

Under the plan, all current Idaho teachers with three or more years experience would automatically enter the career ladder at the professional rung and would not need to worry about advancing from residency status to professional.

For the 2015-16 school year, teacher pay at the professional level would range from $35,498 – $47,603.

Even though the proposal directs $125.6 million in new spending over five years, the education budget would need to be set individually each year to fund the program. Staffers from Gov. Butch Otter’s office said the career ladder is in line with their revenue projections, meaning the state should be able to afford fully funding the proposal.

“We believe, barring some major event or another recession, this is a very doable implentntion schedule,” said Marilyn Whitney, Otter’s education liaison.

Educators and stakeholders have been anticipating the Legislature’s career ladder proposal since teacher pay was included in the 20 recommendations issued in 2013 by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.

The career ladder proposal that officially surfaced was negotiated during individual and small group meetings among lawmakers, state officials and education groups over the course of several weeks this session. It did not arrive in bill form until the 52nd day of the session.

Whitney said the ladder is designed to give all teachers a raise beginning next year and throughout its five-year phase-in.

Teachers earning the state minimum this year, for example, would have their pay bumped to $33,000 next year, representing a raise of 3.9 percent.

The career ladder is designed to replace the state’s existing salary reimbursement grid, which is calculate based on a teacher’s years of experience and educational attainment. If the career ladder is passed into law, teacher salaries would still be negotiated annually between school district officials and the local teachers union.

The Idaho Education Association teachers union voiced concerns after the draft was unveiled, saying the proposal does not go far enough or ramp up quickly enough to address their concerns with teacher recruitment and retention.

Last year, the State Board of Education endorsed a career ladder plan to increase minimum teacher salaries to $40,000 in five years, or about 8 percent more than the plan before the Legislature.

Idaho Association of School Administrators Executive Director Rob Winslow said school officials were concerned about aspects of the draft that were addressed in the new bill introduced March 4. For instance, Whitney said those drafting the bill took steps to ensure teachers do not “leap-frog” other, more experienced educators in terms of salary if they obtain a master’s degree once the career ladder is implemented.

Winslow also praised the bill’s architects for adding a provision that would bring noninstructional staff into the career ladder in 2016-17 if the Legislature does not act before then to address pay for staffers such a counselors, librarians and speech pathologists.

But school administrators would still like to see teachers earn a higher minimum salary.

“To truly recruit, we want to hit that $40,000 level as quickly as possible,” Winslow said. “But we are pleased. We believe there is real commitment from the governor’s office and the Legislature to hit those targets. That’s a positive amount of money and we haven’t see that in a long time.”

The career ladder bill will come back to the committee for a full hearing the week of March 9, at which point public testimony and debate will be accepted, Chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle said.

The estimated cost for the career ladder’s first year of implementation is $31.9 million, essentially the same figure Otter outlined during his State of the State address Jan. 12.

Educators will be mindful of two key Statehouse deadlines in the coming weeks. Next week, on March 12, members of the budget-setting Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee are scheduled to set next year’s public school budget. Traditionally, any significant spending initiative — such as the career ladder — must at least pass either the House or Senate before JFAC members will consider incorporating it into a budget.

If the budget-setting schedule remains intact and lawmakers avoid any late-session gridlock, the Legislature could be poised to adjourn for the year as early as March 27. The career ladder would need to pass both the full House and Senate by that time, or all bets would be off until the 2016-17 school year.


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