OPINION: KARI OVERALL — Still miles to go on educators’ pay

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Progress? Absolutely. However, Idaho cannot afford to rest on its laurels regarding compensation for our professional educators or thinking that we have adequately addressed the causes of our teacher shortage. Recent studies have painted varying pictures of Idaho’s education funding and educator compensation levels, prompting responses from both the State Department of Education and the State Board of Education. Each of these responses highlights improvement, but stops short of addressing some key areas of concern that Idaho officials need to keep in mind.

While the Career Ladder salary allocation plan has provided a much-needed investment in compensation for our professional educators, it really just represents the first steps that must be taken to address the issue. Among the shortcomings of the Career Ladder are:

The Career Ladder has not moved the needle for our most experienced and valuable educators. It has provided necessary increases in minimum starting salaries, but many of Idaho’s veteran teachers have seen little, if any, increase in compensation.

The Legislature opted not to fund the top tier of the Career Ladder at the $60,000 allocation level as recommended by the Governor’s Task Force for Improving Education. In lieu of this tier, they created Master Educator Premiums. As the Education Funding Formula Committee recently heard, there are concerns about the funding of and access to Master Educator Premiums. Even educators who have been diligently building their portfolios are skeptical this program will come to fruition.

Despite intent and instructions to the contrary, many districts have chosen to adopt the Career Ladder salary allocation plan as a salary schedule. This has caused stagnation in teacher compensation, and these districts deal with some of the state’s highest attrition rates.

As noted in a recent study by the nonpartisan Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy, Idaho has actually lost ground in teacher salaries when the numbers are adjusted for inflation. We are 20 percent behind the national average when inflation is factored in.

While Idaho has seen some progress on educator salaries, surrounding states have also prioritized teacher pay, so we still lose educators to border states that pay $10,000-$20,000 more per year.

Increasing our investment in compensation to professional educators was just one of the recommendations of the Teacher Pipeline Workgroup, which was made up of an impressive cross-section of education stakeholders, elected officials and business community representatives. This large group met several times, did diligent research, and provided intuitive recommendations to the State Board of Education, which accepted the report.

Unfortunately, these recommendations for addressing Idaho’s teacher shortage have not been acted upon. The report was not presented to either of the legislative education committees during the most recent session, and no action has been taken by the State Board of Education to move these proposals forward. Lowering the bar by increasing the number of alternative certifications is not a real solution or a viable long-term strategy. Every student in every classroom deserves a highly trained and well compensated teacher.

Several studies are now telling us roughly the same thing — Idaho has made some progress regarding compensation for professional educators, but we have a long way to go when it comes to investing in public education. The most recent research from the National Education Association shows that Idaho is 43rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in average teacher salary. That same research shows that Idaho ranks 50th in per pupil funding.

The work currently being done by Idaho’s Education Funding Formula Committee is extremely important. This committee, along with the Legislature, will have some critical decisions to make in the coming months that will shape public education in our state for a generation. Adequate funding at the statewide level is certainly one priority. Continuing to rely on local levies and bonds is not a sustainable funding model and helps create a significant imbalance of resources from one district to the next.

Another key decision will be how to address compensation for professional educators once the five-year Career Ladder plan expires after the 2019-2020 school year. We agree that Idaho has seen improvement in teacher salaries over the last few years and it is appropriate to acknowledge that fact. However, we are still in the early stages of Idaho’s renewed investment in public education and to our dedicated professional educators. Let’s not celebrate prematurely.

• • •

Kari Overall is the president of the Idaho Education Association.

The Idaho Education Association is the leading organization for education employees in Idaho and is the largest professional organization in the state. The IEA and its members have worked together for more than 120 years to advocate for children and professional educators, and to promote strong public schools as the foundation of Idaho’s future.

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