Since the Great Recession forced steep, painful cuts to the state’s education system, state officials have done a remarkable job of getting back on track. At times, the Legislature has perhaps moved too slowly, but it’s moved consistently, which is the harder thing to do. Getting a majority of 105 lawmakers to pull in the same direction year after year, even as new faces enter the statehouse and old ones leave, is a major accomplishment.
Still, the state lags behind many neighboring states and behind much of the country in teacher pay. A study by the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy points out that, after adjusting for inflation, teacher pay has dropped 6.8 percent since 2000.
There’s a lot more work to be done.
There is every indication that lawmakers broadly remain committed to implementing the career ladder, a set of pay raises that have gone a long way to addressing Idaho’s substandard teacher pay scale. This is the final year of planned implementation for the career ladder, and lawmakers should fund it. Just as important, they should develop a plan to continue where the career ladder leaves off, increasing teacher pay in future years.
But officials also should have their eyes fixed on a long-term plan for what comes next.
Gov. Brad Little has made an admirable pledge to get starting teacher pay up from $35,000 to $40,000, a measure that would do great good in places such as eastern Idaho, where schools have to compete to keep teachers from moving across the border to Wyoming or Utah, which both have higher pay rates. Low teacher pay is a contributing factor in the high turnover rate among the state’s teachers. A 2017 report showed that about a third of all teachers who are certified in Idaho every year don’t go on to get teaching jobs in the state. Many likely found jobs in other states that pay more. And of those who do, many don’t stick around long.
Lawmakers should make progress toward that goal this year, even if they can’t get all the way in one fell swoop.
The key to getting there is to repeat what was done with the career ladder: Build consensus around a staged plan to address low teacher pay.
Another key priority should be to update the state’s outdated funding formula, which determines how state funding is distributed to local districts.
Rep. Wendy Horman, R-Idaho Falls, has done yeoman’s work by guiding the state funding formula committee to develop a new enrollment-based funding formula for schools, which lawmakers should move to implement.