It was a lengthy and busy session for the Idaho legislature in 2019. At 95 days it was the third-longest session in state history and at various times was marked by harmony, confusion, and acrimony. In addition to an increase in Idaho’s minimum starting teacher salary, there were several bills put forward relating to public education, either directly or indirectly.
Career Ladder. Full funding of the fifth and final year of the current Career Ladder salary allocation plan passed both chambers with very little opposition. Over five years the legislature has approved more than $250 million in increased apportionment to school districts for teacher compensation. However, according to the latest statistics released by the National Education Association, Idaho still ranks 44th out of the 50 states plus the District of Columbia in average teacher salary and still trails every neighboring state.
Master Educator Premiums. The legislature also approved $7.2 million for the first year of the Master Educator Premium program. MEPs were instituted when legislators declined to fund the top rung of the Career Ladder as recommended by then-Governor Butch Otter’s task force on improving K-12 education. The IEA has done extensive training around the state to help prepare eligible teacher-members who are interested in applying for Master Educator Premiums. It is uncertain how many veteran teachers will apply for MEPs, but the State Board of Education has continually said there will not be a cap on the number of teachers who qualify for the premiums, which will pay those educators $4,000 per year for three years. The legislature also approved funds for review and administration of Master Educator Premium portfolios.
Funding Formula. The most time-consuming subject during the 2019 session was Idaho’s Public School Funding Formula, which fizzled in the legislature despite nearly three years of work. The IEA and other education stakeholders urged lawmakers not to rush into any legislation that wasn’t ready to be implemented, while the House and Senate Education Committees could not find common ground on funding formula language. Ultimately, the legislature settled on an 11th-hour bill that will require data collection from schools and districts in an effort to narrow down definitions of student classifications such as “at-risk” and “economically disadvantaged”. Next steps for the funding formula beyond this data collection are uncertain, but the IEA is encouraging legislators to adopt a plan that increases the size of the funding pie rather than creating winners and losers by carving up the same pie differently.
Early Literacy. The legislature followed suggestions from Gov. Little and State Superintendent Sherry Ybarra and doubled funding for early literacy programs and intervention.
Advanced Opportunities. This popular program that encompasses dual credit offerings, advanced placement, and other strategies to get a jump start on post-secondary education, received an $18 million investment.
Education Policy: What Happened? And What Didn’t?
Charter School Administrators. SB 1058 relaxes requirements for charter schools in hiring administrators. Similar legislation was vetoed by then-Governor Otter last year but was signed by Gov. Little with the caveat that he will be watching developments closely. The IEA opposed this legislation both years.
Alternative Routes to the Classroom. HB 93 approves the use of state funds to match spending by alternative preparation programs such as Teach for America. The IEA prefers a comprehensive, well-rounded model of teacher preparation.
Sex Education. A bill that would have changed participation in classes with any form of sex education content from opt-out to opt-in was held in committee.
Guns in Schools. Legislation that would have allowed anyone over 18 to carry a gun on school grounds without informing school officials was held in committee.
Mastery-Based Learning. At the request of Supt. Ybarra, the legislature removed the cap on the number of schools that can take part in a pilot program for mastery-based learning but did not provide additional funding.
Music in Our Schools Month. HCR 06, which was sponsored by IEA member Rep. John McCrostie, D-Garden City, designates March as Music in Our Schools Month. This bill passed both chambers with broad support and was signed into law.
Hear how IEA President Kari Overall sized-up the 2019 legislative session in our IEA REPORTER podcast.