IEA President Penni Cyr and Meridian Education Association President Kendra Wisenbaker addressed a public hearing of the Joint Finance and Appropriations Committee on Friday. Cyr stressed that paying teachers and increasing discretionary funding is not an “either/or” proposition—both need to happen in order to provide students with the best possible education. Wisenbaker noted that Meridian (West Ada) schools are substantially overcrowded and that students are suffering as a result.
Chairman and members of the committee,
My name is Kendra Wisenbaker and I am the President of the Meridian Education Association, working directly with the West Ada School District. In this role, I help teachers and help students be the best that they can. With that, teachers always want what is best for their students.
I bet you already know what I’m going to say what schools need more of…. Money. But contrary to what many say across the state, giving money to schools will help them be more successful, and here are a few reasons why.
- Currently the West Ada School District is asking taxpayers to vote for a bond levy that will help them build schools and acquire land for future schools. Why? Because there are more students than our buildings have room for. Because there is limited space in the cafeteria, many high school students at Mountain View eat lunches on the floor. Currently Lake Hazel Middle School is 400 students over capacity. Many of the fifth graders I taught last year are now attending this school. What was I supposed to teach them to be successful sixth graders in an overcrowded school? Train them to use the restroom, fight the crowds, and still get to class on time?
- In addition, overcrowding limits a teacher’s ability to work with students individually. Students who need additional help to understand concepts need to have access to this instruction. It is not the district that so badly needs this bond to pass, but the students. Idaho’s students need the best that we can give them – and district reliance on bonds and levies to make up the difference for lack of legislative funding does not ensure that students will get what they deserve.
- Each year, I see some of our most highly qualified teachers leave either the district or state entirely. Obviously, remaining competitive with salaries remains an issue in retaining the most qualified teachers for our students. Educators want to see that they are valued for the work that they do. Our society pays for what we value – and right now, is Idaho demonstrating that it values education as much as much as it can?
- Lastly, specific money allocation is needed for professional development. Educators want to help prepare students as best that they can to maneuver in an ever-changing environment, and need training to do so. Our para-educators who often work one-on-one with students need professional development and training as well. Many of those who want to take a class often have to take a personal day in order to do so. Our state needs to show educators that they value continued learning and growth, and money for professional development is a step in the right direction.
I reiterate; as an educator, I’m not just asking for a heftier paycheck. My colleagues and I see the day-to-day repercussions of Idaho being at the bottom of the barrel with per-pupil spending. We see the effects of overcrowding: students not having enough quality time to eat lunch or maybe not even feeling safe. These basic needs must be met in order for our students to take advantage of the educational opportunities they are being given. I encourage you to ensure that we are meeting the needs of our students as you consider the education budget. Thank you for your time.
Penni Cyr, IEA President
Mr. Chairman, members of the committee…
I’m Penni Cyr, president of the Idaho Education Association, and i appreciate the opportunity to speak with you this morning on behalf of thousands of iea members who are certified teachers and education professionals in Idaho.
We agree wholeheartedly with a critical premise that has been discussed at length here at the capitol and around the state—Idaho must take significant action in order to be able to attract and retain high quality teachers.
So what steps should we take to ensure that our students and our communities reap the benefits from having great teachers in the classroom?
#1—pay our teachers a professional wage that is competitive with surrounding states and other industries. Idaho education is dealing with a significant drain of our most important resource—our dedicated, experienced professional teachers are leaving for other states, or leaving education entirely. At the front end of the equation, there is very little incentive for bright young people to enter the teaching profession, knowing that they are in for a life of pinching pennies and living paycheck to paycheck. Our border states of Wyoming, Washington, Nevada, Oregon and Utah all pay more in average starting salary than Idaho — in some cases significantly more. There is a growing recognition here at the capitol that this needs to be addressed, and we encourage action to follow through on making teaching a more desirable profession for top college graduates.
However, we also need to take care of our current teachers, who have remained in the classroom despite low pay, cuts in salary, limited resources and an environment that has sought to “shame and blame” them. These men and women are the lynchpins of Idaho’s public education system and are the single most important component in the educational growth of our children. Their experience and institutional knowledge is irreplaceable, and we encourage you to recognize their value in both tangible and intangible ways.
I will leave in-depth discussion on the career ladders concept for another time and place, except to note that the 5 or 6 year horizons outlined in some of the plans are much too long. Our dedicated teachers need, and deserve, improved compensation now.
#2—increase discretionary funding. Idaho schools and districts have also been struggling because of funding shortfalls. Larger class sizes, program cuts, outdated technology, and buildings in disrepair are just a few of the issues that our schools are dealing with.
And let me stress that this is not an “either or” proposition. If we are going to give our children the education that they deserve, we have to provide adequate professorial compensation that will enable us to attract and retain good teachers, and give our schools and districts the resources that they need.
#3—allocate funds for professional development. A critical component in making sure that children get the best possible education is also creating opportunities to make sure teachers get the best possible continuing education. Funds need to be dedicated to professional development opportunities for teachers, but also to encourage continuing education and advanced degrees which help teachers grow professionally. There has been much discussion about “an educated state” and the 60% go-on goal, but little if any credit or funding is given to teachers who earn advanced degrees and further their own education. Collaboration and mentoring are important, and we all benefit when our teachers can share ideas and techniques, as well as when experienced teachers can help new teachers in their transition into the classroom on a full-time basis.
The governor has been touting his proposed budget increase as getting the state back to 2009 levels for public education, but he has left out the fact that Idaho has seen an increase of more than 100 classroom units since then.
Idaho has been well behind the curve on committing to public education—financially and otherwise, and we have paid the price in the form of low average incomes, a high percentage of minimum wage jobs, and a disappointing percentage of students going on to earn post-high school degrees and certificates. And we will continue to pay that very steep price if we don’t take steps now to set us on a course that will benefit teachers, students, schools and communities throughout Idaho.