Idaho Teacher 'Career Bill' (Version Two) Passes House Education Committee

by

ADAM ROSENLUND
  • ADAM ROSENLUND
The House Education Committee hearing over a "career ladder" bill for teachers on the morning of March 20 couldn't have been more different from the hearing that took place for a similar bill March 10. Back then, more than 100 people—mostly educators—turned out to testify against the bill.

After almost six hours of harsh public testimony, committee chairman Reed DeMordaunt, R-Eagle, decided to hold the bill without a motion. 

A reincarnated version of House Bill 222, now known as House Bill 296, brought a very different reaction from the crowd. A handful of education stakeholders including the executive director of the Idaho Association of School Administrators, the executive director of the Idaho Rural School Association, the superintendent of the Boise School District, the Idaho School Board Association and the Idaho Education Association testified in support of the bill in Friday's meeting, praising the collaboration that took place to create it.

The most stark change of tune came from Idaho Education Association, which originally created a laundry list of problems with HB 222. In this morning's meeting, however, Executive Director Robin Nettinga thanked the committee for making revisions to the old bill. 

"This bill is a textbook illustration of consensus," she told the committee. "Thank you for listening to the teachers, they feel respected and heard."

Boise Weekly talked with Nettinga about several of the changes made from HB 222 to create HB 296. She said after hearing so much negative public testimony for the first bill, DeMordaunt reached out to several organizations like the IEA to talk about how to fix it. 

"In every case, he was willing to work with us," she said.

The result addressed several primary concerns educators raised in the last public hearing. One involved including teachers in conversations about raising teacher pay. For example, when a district decides what factors it will take into account when giving a teacher a higher wage, the district won't rely only on an ISAT. Teachers will be able to talk about how they want to see their students progress, and be evaluated off of their results. Bonuses will be awarded to teachers in leadership positions, like those taking on dual credits, mentorship roles and hard-to-fill positions. 

The new legislation also bumps teachers' salaries higher next year than HB 222. House Bill 296 stipulates that all teachers get a pay raise of 3 percent or higher starting in the fall of 2015. The original bill called for a raise only of 1.4 percent in the first year.

Nettinga also said another victory over the old bill came in the form of teachers no longer being held accountable for things outside of their control. This was a major point of contention in HB 222. During the public testimony on March 10, one woman who teaches Title I elementary school classes in Moscow said working with children who need special attention would put her at a salary disadvantage because her students are less likely to meet proficiency standards.

"For many of my own students, their influence outside of school is not positive," Susan Mahoney told the committee. "Their parents are divorced, in jail, verbally or physically abusive, abusing alcohol and drugs, living in poverty. They don't know where the next meal is coming from. These students can't focus on their schoolwork the way they need to when there are so many bad influences outside of school. All they can count on is their free lunch at school."

Mahoney pointed out that these children often don't have books at home. They have no enriching educational experiences until the age of 5.

"To expect them to show that growth of an expected grade level and meet those targets is unrealistic," she said. "That's a system failure, not a failure of me as a teacher."

Nettinga said this new bill corrects that problem.

"Teachers won't be held accountable by things they have no control over," she told BW. "Districts can only count students that have been enrolled and show up 80 percent of the time, because it's hard to teach a kid when they don't come to school."

Despite these major changes to the career ladder bill, Nettinga said it's not perfect. The goal is to recruit and retain teachers, but Nettinga worries it won't do enough.

"Obviously, we do have concerns for the sheer numbers," she said. "We have districts around us starting at $36,000 or $37,000 a year right now. In five years, we'll be at $37,000 for a starting salary. Maybe over the next five years, we can look at the numbers and see if we can do something more."

Both stakeholders and legislators alike praised the bill, and their ability to put it together. Rep. Hy Kloc, D-Boise, who originally planned to vote down HB 222, told the committee he "whole-heartedly supports" HB 296. 

"The exercise we just went through is what I hoped for when I was voted into the legislature," Kloc said. "This is what I thought government would be like."

Rep. Ilana Rubel, D-Boise, also said working to craft this new bill was "the most positive experience I've had in government yet."

House Bill 296 passed the committee with no opposition, and will now head to the House floor.