Career Ladder, Health Insurance, Master Teacher Premiums Highlight Session
The 2017 Idaho legislative session was notable for what actions were taken, including full funding of the third year of the Career Ladder, but also for what didn’t happen and what might still occur. The legislature spent 80 days in a session that was marked by internal strife and contrasting opinions on several issues, but a strong consensus on making a financial investment in public education.
Foremost in that investment was the Career Ladder; the five-year salary allocation plan designed to increase appropriations for teacher compensation so that Idaho will be better positioned to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. Year three of the plan (FY18) is the largest increase, but despite sporadic noise to the contrary, the legislature overwhelmingly approved an increase of $61.9 million. That figure was bumped up by almost $4 million from previous estimates because of increased enrollment at public schools around the state. The legislature also approved $6.9 million (3%) in raises for classified staff not on the Career Ladder.
Feedback on the Career Ladder remains positive overall, but concerns persist that the plan has not provided enough benefit for veteran teachers. When the legislature opted not to create a $60,000 top tier of the Career Ladder (capping it at $50,000 instead), a Master Teacher Premium program (changed to Master Educator Premium during this session) was instituted to reward Idaho’s experienced teachers. With those premiums scheduled to begin in 2019-20, some legislators are expressing concern about the potential price tag. The IEA will continue to offer trainings on Master Educator Premiums and will continue our support for keeping the premiums in place for any teacher that qualifies.
More encouraging news for public schools came in the form of a $15.9 million (4.1%) increase in discretionary funding for districts. A substantial portion of the increase is earmarked to help districts with rising health insurance costs, as the legislature began taking a more proactive approach to dealing with that major issue. Including these monies in discretionary funding and allowing districts financial flexibility was the approach supported by the IEA. A plan drafted by Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, was enacted for the coming year, rather than a line item tactic that was preferred by some elected officials.
Policy Issues to Keep an Eye On
There are two important groups meeting over the summer that bear watching. The Legislative School Funding Formula Committee is looking at ways to modify or overhaul the methods by which Idaho funds public schools. The insurance and Master Educator Premium issues will be among their considerations. An Educator Pipeline Workgroup has also been convened, with IEA staff and teacher-members among the participants. This cross-section of education stakeholders is exploring potential solutions for Idaho’s teacher shortage.
The legislature approved a new slate of science standards as a temporary rule, but voted to remove five passages relating to climate change. Local districts are still allowed to draft science curricula as they see fit, and the standards will be revisited by the legislature in 2018.
Several bills opposed by the IEA were held in committee, but may well be brought back again in ensuing legislative sessions. Among them were:
- A voucher bill in the form of tuition tax credits. This dangerous approach to education is in favor with the new national administration, but would siphon money away from public schools for use by religious and private schools.
- Legislation that would have further loosened hiring restrictions for charter schools, allowing them to bypass most certification rules. Accountability and oversight issues continue to plague many charter schools.
- A bill that would have drastically altered the bargaining verification process for local associations.
- Several pieces of legislation related to elections, including one that would have placed significant restrictions on the information that districts could provide to patrons about levies and bonds.
For more on the 2017 legislative session, listen to the IEA legislative team podcast as they break down the important takeaways.