Although most Idaho lawmakers claim to be fiscal conservatives, today a strong majority of them passed the second of three bills to overhaul Idaho education – and they did so without a clue where the money to fund it will come from.

The House passed Senate Bill 1110 on a 44-26 vote. The measure plans to grant bonuses to teachers for accepting hard-to-fill positions, taking on leadership duties, or working in a school that shows academic growth. Much of the debate revolved around whether or not the bill is funded. Perhaps it’s telling that the 13 Republican “no” votes included that of Rep. Maxine Bell, co-chair of the Joint Finance-Appropriations Committee, which oversees Idaho’s budget-setting process.

The bill will cost the state $38 million in its first year, Fiscal Year 2013, and more than $50 million each year after that. Its passage comes at a time when Idaho school funding has fallen $200 million over the past two years, with additional cuts likely for FY 2012.

“This doesn’t seem to be the way the House usually operates,” said Idaho Education Association President Sherri Wood. “It will be ironic if teachers have to take further pay cuts or if we lose up to a thousand Idaho education jobs in order to pay for these bonuses.”

In a press release this afternoon, Superintendent Tom Luna crowed, “With this bill, Idaho now has the most comprehensive statewide pay-for-performance plan in the country. This legislation is all about recognizing and rewarding our great teachers for the outstanding work they do every day.”

Luna added, “We can’t stop here. We must also reform our classrooms to ensure every student has access to a highly effective teacher every year and the best educational opportunities available.” He said he is “still working closely with the Senate and Governor Otter on changes to the third bill, which addresses classroom reforms by stabilizing the public schools budget, investing in teacher base salaries, and infusing more technology in the classroom.”

As it’s written now, that third bill (Senate Bill 1113) would also increase class sizes, impose technology mandates on Idaho school districts, and eliminate up to a thousand Idaho education jobs, in part to fund the pay-for-performance scheme.  Replied Wood, “That doesn’t seem fair, to tell educators, ‘You’ll no longer have a job, but we’ll pay your remaining colleagues a bonus.’ Doing away with a thousand education jobs to fund bonuses is not good public policy.”

Luna said he created Senate Bill 1110 with “all educational stakeholders, including the Idaho Education Association.” But as Sherri Wood testified last week in the House Education Committee, the presence of Senate Bill 1110 “in this budget year seems like a cruel joke on teachers. The Idaho Education Association did take part in discussions of a pay-for-performance plan a year-and-a-half ago. However, we recommended that this plan not be introduced until new money is available to pay for it.”

S1110 passed a day after the House passed Senate Bill 1108, Luna’s bill to take away teachers’ voices in their jobs and end 40 years of collaboration between teachers and their districts. Both bills are now on their way to Gov. Butch Otter for his signature. Use this form to ask him to veto both bills.

In addition, please take time to thank the House members who voted NO on Senate Bill 1110 today. They include Reps. Ken Andrus (R-Lava Hot Springs), Maxine Bell (R-Jerome), Carlos Bilbao (R-Emmett), Darrell Bolz (R-Caldwell), Cherie Buckner-Webb (D-Boise), Grant Burgoyne (D-Boise), Sue Chew (D-Boise), Brian Cronin (D-Boise), George Eskridge (R-Dover), Elfreda Higgins (D-Boise), Wendy Jaquet (D-Ketchum), Bill Killen (D-Boise), and Phylis King (D-Boise).

Also Reps. Roy Lacey (D-Pocatello), Tom Loertscher (R-Iona), Lynn Luker (R-Boise), Janice McGeachin (R-Idaho Falls), Mike Moyle (R-Star), Jeff Nesset (R-Lewiston), Donna Pence (D-Gooding), Shirley Ringo (D-Moscow), John Rusche (D-Lewiston), Elaine Smith (D-Pocatello), Leon Smith (R-Twin Falls), Tom Trail (R-Moscow), and Rich Wills (R-Glenns Ferry).

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