Idaho's teacher career ladder leaves many educators struggling to climb up

Posted at 7:46 PM, Oct 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-10-22 00:40:39-04

Idaho is having a tough time keeping teachers in the classroom.

Though the state has spent millions to increase salaries over the last few years, a new report shows it's not enough. That’s not a surprise to a Treasure Valley couple.

“I did not want to leave this area. I love this area. Boise is a special place,” says Sam Cronin.

He and his wife Christie are packing up their first home. Sam recently accepted a special education teaching job in Redmond, Oregon. His wife is also a teacher for bilingual students. They’re moving because they can’t afford to stay.

“Oregon provides health insurance for the entire family and the pay was so much better. Those two factors alone are the reason we are moving,” says Cronin.

The same position in Oregon is paying Sam $9,000 more than what he made at Meridian High School.  With benefits, the family expects to save another $15,000 a year.  

“We're just happy we'll have less stress and more time with our family,” says Christie as she plays with her two-year-old son, David.

The Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy recently released an in-depth report on teacher compensation. The Boise non-profit found the average teacher in the United States has more than thirteen years of experience and makes $59,924. In comparison, Idaho pays about $47,504. That ranks Idaho 43rd in the nation.

Idaho has pumped millions into the system over the last few years, through what's known as the career ladder, but it seems that ladder isn't long enough.

“The investment was 250 million dollars but it was stretched out over five years. So, it's given inflation time to eat away at the value of those dollars,” says Sasha Pierson with Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy.

When the career ladder started four years ago, it didn't account for the state's explosive growth. More families moving in, means more teachers are needed.  But the pot of money from the state hasn't increased, which leaves Idaho's K-12 educators still on a bottom rung.

“Since it began we found teacher salaries in Idaho increased less than one percent,” says Pierson.

The Cronins say their Idaho teacher salaries just don't cut it. They still have student loans to pay off and are tired of working up to four extra odd jobs to make ends meet.  Their story is all too familiar for those in education.

"I got an email the other day from a very talented educator in post falls who is leaving to go teach in Spokane making 20%, 30% more than she was making in Post Falls. Her kids will still go to school in Post Falls, but she is going to go teach in Spokane,” relays Idaho Education Association President Kari Overall.

Overall says the disparity in teacher pay is even worse for rural and under-performing school districts.  Idaho does have a low cost of living, but education advocates argue that's not enough to stay competitive.

“We know every state that borders Idaho pays 10 to 15 thousand dollars more than Idaho," says Overall.

The legislature is on track to fund the last year of the teacher career ladder this session. That's another 48 million dollars into teacher salaries. But there's no plan yet with what happens next.

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