Legislative Recap: More Money, but Policy Decisions Raise Questions
With relatively little disagreement, the Idaho legislature moved forward with funding for the second year of the Career Ladder teacher salary allocation plan during the 2016 session. Discretionary funding also received a boost and a number of specific initiatives were targeted for line item monies. However, legislative action on leadership premiums and a looming threat of privatization efforts created cause for concern from the recently-completed session.
When legislative leaders collaborated with the IEA and other education groups a year ago to craft the Career Ladder, it was envisioned as a five-year plan that would need to be funded on a year-by-year basis by succeeding legislatures. Year two (FY17) has now been funded in the amount of $41.5 million, which represents a 6.7% increase in salary funding for teachers. Pupil services staff were also moved over to the Career Ladder. “We are glad to see that the legislature provided full funding for year two, which is a positive step forward in helping Idaho attract and retain quality teachers,” IEA President Penni Cyr says. “We hope that they will stay the course in year three, which is the most expensive year of the Career Ladder plan.”
The 2016 legislative session also included a 7.6% increase in discretionary funding (sometimes called operational funding). This action boosts allocation levels per support unit back to the high-water mark of 2009, but is not indexed for inflation. While this is a notable accomplishment, a number of education leaders, including Cyr and State Superintendent for Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra stressed that the mission has not been completed. “Comparable to 2009 was a target, but comparable is not synonymous with sufficient,” Ybarra noted.
Leadership premiums remain a piece of the puzzle for teacher compensation, but there were developments on that front as well. The minimum that individual teachers can receive in leadership premiums was increased from $850 to $900, but no additional money was added to the program. Inconsistencies in allocation and reporting have caused the legislature to take a longer look at the overall structure of leadership premiums.
Other specific programs or initiatives that received funding in the FY17 budget include:
- Professional development and mentoring for teachers. A 23% increase ($2.375 million) brings the total to $16.4 million to assist teachers with classroom skills.
- Early literacy/reading intervention. $9.1 million was earmarked to identify and assist kindergartners through third-graders who are not reading at grade level.
- College/career advising. To help move Idaho closer to the goal of having 60% of people age 25-34 holding a degree or certificate by the year 2020, $5 million was targeted to help students with their college and/or career planning.
- Classroom technology. An additional $5 million was added to this category, bringing the total to $18 million.
Good News on the Policy Front—and Cause for Concern
A number of policy developments related to education came out of the legislative session, most of them positive, or at least neutral, for professional educators. Among the notable changes that teachers should be aware of are:
- Sick leave transfer. New legislation removed the 90-day limit on transfer of sick leave by individuals. This provides more flexibility for teachers changing districts or moving to other state-affiliated positions.
- Teacher evaluations. Responsibility for oversight of the evaluators has been transferred from the State Department of Education to the State Board of Education, and the deadline for completion of evaluations has been extended from May 1 to June 1.
- School safety. The legislature created a new Office of School Safety within the current Division of Building Safety.
One troubling piece of legislation was passed late in the session. Senate Bill 1248 allows charter schools to issue contracts of their choice to teachers rather than using the standard contract approved by the State Superintendent. The IEA has significant concerns that this legislation will destabilize the employment relationship between teachers and schools, arbitrarily create multiple tiers of teachers, and undermine collective bargaining rights.
The 2016 legislative session lasted 75 days, but you can get a complete rundown on all of the education-related legislation in our IEA Reporter podcast. Listen as IEA President Penni Cyr, Executive Director Robin Nettinga, and Director of Public Policy Matt Compton share their insight and expertise in a recap of the session.