Guest Opinions

Retention matters: Compensation for experienced Idaho teachers needs immediate attention

Sherri Ybarra speaks to lawmakers about Idaho’s public school funding

Lawmakers gathered for a 'listening session' on a proposal for Idaho's public school funding. Sherri Ybarra spoke during the session.
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Lawmakers gathered for a 'listening session' on a proposal for Idaho's public school funding. Sherri Ybarra spoke during the session.

Idaho’s most experienced and valuable educators have been ignored under the Career Ladder salary allocation framework for too long. It is imperative we expand on the recent investments in public education beyond early-career educators to ensure we are able to keep our veteran educators where they belong – in their classrooms working with Idaho students.

We have taken some positive steps forward in Idaho’s ability to recruit new teachers thanks to the Career Ladder, as well as legislation sponsored by Gov. Brad Little and approved by the Legislature that increases the starting minimum teacher salary to $40,000 over the next two years. Unfortunately, neither of those initiatives has put a dent in what might be a bigger issue: teacher retention.

The recent passage of HB 293, which sets a minimum salary of $42,500 for the first rung of the professional tier, is creating some confusion in school districts across the state. This bill was well-intentioned but may end up putting even more of a burden on underfunded school districts as they scramble to comply with the new mandate. Districts may have to further turn to local taxpayers for additional supplemental levies, which would exacerbate inequities created among more and less affluent districts and those who can and cannot pass levies.

With the new K-12 task force about to begin its work, we have a terrific opportunity to address these critical issues. It is imperative that we let Idaho’s experienced teachers know they are respected and valued, including in the tangible way of increased compensation. Here are a few points to consider as Idaho takes a long look at teacher retention.

According to 2017-18 statistics, Idaho ranks 44th among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in average teacher salary. Idaho ranks dead last, at 51st, in per-pupil funding.

Adjusted for inflation, Idaho’s average teacher salary has decreased 6.4% since 2009, so the spending power and net income are less than they were a decade ago.

Professional educators earn an average of 21% less than their counterparts in other fields with equal experience and training.

With the new $42,500 minimum for first tier of the professional classification and the current maximum allocation of $50,000, a teacher with a professional classification can expect an increase of only $7,500 for the remainder of their career.

The original K-12 task force recommended rungs of $40,000, $50,000, and $60,000 for the Career Ladder. The Legislature opted not to fund the top rung.

Ninety-three of Idaho’s 115 school districts are running levies to compensate for shortfalls in funding from the state.

Every student in every classroom in every district in Idaho deserves access to a quality teacher and an opportunity to succeed. Whether at the state level or at the local district level, dividing an inadequate pool of money differently just brings about a different set of problems and does not move us forward.

The time is now to approach teacher retention with a sense of urgency and take action that will enable us to keep our most experienced teachers in the profession and in Idaho classrooms. We look forward to working with elected officials and other education stakeholders to expand the recent investments in public education beyond early-career educators. Our students deserve nothing less.

Kari Overall is president of the Idaho Education Association and Rob Winslow is executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.

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