BOISE — Idaho Gov. Brad Little could soon roll out a new five-year teacher pay plan that provides upward of $225 million in additional state support for teacher salaries.

Details on the proposal are still being finalized. However, a bill will likely be introduced once the House and Senate education committees wrap up their work on the school content standards and other administrative rules.

“We’re a week or two away from moving forward,” said Greg Wilson, Little’s education policy adviser. “We just have to make sure we have legislative support.”

The impetus for the plan comes from the governor’s Our Kids, Idaho’s Future education task force.

After meeting for several months over the course of 2018, the task force recommended that the “career ladder” teacher pay plan be expanded to include a third tier for veteran teachers. It proposed state funding be raised to $40,000 for beginning teacher, $50,000 for mid-level teachers and $60,000 for veteran educators.

Little’s plan essentially mirrors that recommendation.

“What we’ve been discussing is $60,000 or a little above,” Wilson said.

He noted that the career ladder currently tops out at $53,500. That’s the maximum amount of state funding school districts receive, even for veteran teachers with master’s degrees. For most teachers, though, the maximum is $50,000.

If districts want to pay more than that — or, like Lewiston and Moscow, need to pay more to remain competitive — they have to make up the difference themselves, primarily through local supplemental levies or discretionary funds. Those that can’t pay more risk losing veteran teachers to more affluent districts.

Although Little supports the task force recommendations, Wilson was quick to point out that the final bill will reflect input from legislators and education stakeholders.

“The governor is working in earnest with legislators,” he said. “When we’ve talked about this, we’ve never said, ‘This is the plan, take it or leave it.’ There’s always been a healthy respect for working with legislators, both on the fiscal side and on the performance criteria.”

He’s been meeting with members of the House and Senate education committees and the joint budget committee, as well as with stakeholder groups. Outside of the committees, though, the plan isn’t widely known.

“I’m pretty well-positioned to hear things, but I’ve had to extrapolate my understanding of it from bits and pieces I’ve picked up,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “We’re used to things like this having some pomp and circumstance and glowing remarks, but this proposal is more like, ‘Oh, by the way.’ ”

Wilson noted that the idea of having a third rung on the career ladder for veteran teachers has been around since 2013. The Legislature didn’t implement it because of concerns about accountability and fiscal impacts, but there’s always been an expectation that the issue would come back.

“This was a direction the state was talking about,” he said. “To a degree, it’s kind of unfinished business.”

Little hopes to enact the legislation this session, but he’ll have to overcome the concerns about fiscal impact and accountability, which remain in force.

Bedke, for example, noted that lawmakers have boosted K-12 funding by $600 million since 2014, or 45 percent, with much of that going to teacher salaries.

“I’m sure that’s been a welcomed addition to their paychecks, and I don’t begrudge that,” Bedke said. “But I also don’t know that we’ve moved the needle (on student achievement). So where’s the accountability? I’d like it if kids were reading at grade level by the end of third grade. That would give me something I could point to.”

Spence may be contacted at bspence@lmtribune.com or (208) 791-9168.

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