Far be it for us to explain economics to the Idaho Freedom Foundation, but someone has to do it.

Let’s start with a basic tenant of the free market system: supply and demand.

When surpluses produce a buyer’s market, prices fall.

In times of scarcity, then the reverse occurs.

Basic stuff that you got in middle school, right?

Glad we got that out of the way.

Now consider what IFF Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Birnbaum has been up to recently.

As Idaho Education News’ Kevin Richert pointed out, Birnbaum and IFF’s policy analyst, Lindsay Atkinson, are taking aim at the final leg of Idaho’s teacher career ladder program. As envisioned by former Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s public schools task force, the career ladder was supposed to include a $60,000 floor for veteran educators as well as a $50,000 standard for people in mid-career and a beginning teacher wage of $40,000. For early and mid-career teachers, progress has been made, but the senior teachers were left behind.

A subcommittee of Gov. Brad Little’s new education task force wants that shortcoming addressed; the full panel will take it up next month.

Birnbaum doesn’t like that idea. Among his criticisms:

l The system is too complicated.

l Building the career ladder does not close the compensation gap; it aggravates it: “Another rung will likely lead the Idaho Education Association to negotiate even bigger pay increases for veteran teachers, thereby heightening the pay gap between veterans and mid-career teachers, and between urban and rural districts — continuing the pull from rural to urban districts.”

l There’s no accountability. Teachers, good or bad, still get compensation based on experience and education.

Why anyone would pay attention to IFF’s public education pronouncements is a good question. After all, IFF President Wayne Hoffman already has shown his hand. He doesn’t want to make public schools better; he wants to shut them down.

Earlier this year, he declared: “I don’t think government should be in the education business. It is the most virulent form of socialism (and indoctrination thereto) in America today. The predictable result has been higher costs, lower performance and a system that twists itself in knots to prove it’s educating kids when really it’s not.”

But lawmakers do listen to what the IFF says — for no other reason than to avoid getting dinged on the conservative think tank’s voting index.

Permeating throughout all this is the presumption that Idahoans get to decide what public school teachers deserve. However true that may have been in earlier decades when school job fairs attracted several applicants for each vacancy, now the jobs are chasing after a limited number of teachers.

While its average salary has improved slightly, Idaho’s being out-classed in the competition to attract and retain educators. At $50,757, Idaho’s average teacher pay ranked 41st out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Among Idaho’s neighbors, only Utah — average salary, $50,342 — pays less.

Elsewhere, Idaho is being outbid by:

l Montana — $54,034.

l Nevada — $54,280.

l Oregon —$64,385.

l Washington — $72,965.

l Wyoming — $58,618.

That’s playing out in a couple of ways.

Idaho is becoming a training ground.

As the State Board of Education has noted, the state is shedding a disproportionate amount of teachers — about 10 percent — each year.

Four of every five who left Idaho’s classrooms were not retiring. Either they were taking teaching jobs for more money in other states or changing professions.

Unable to replace all of them with qualified teachers, the state increasingly turns toward provisional certification. Either people are learning how to teach on the job — or experienced educators are mastering their new subject matter as they go. More than 5 percent of Idaho teachers are not fully certified, and that percentage has doubled in recent years.

To avoid that fate, districts with the means — usually urban centers with abundant resources — are willing to pay the going rate. Those that can pass local property tax levies — about 80 percent of Idaho’s 115 school districts — have raised $202 million to compensate for inadequate state budgets.

That inequity — not the collective bargaining prowess of the IEA — is causing the pay gap between rich and poor districts that so irks Birnbaum.

You don’t have to like it.

But that’s how capitalism works. — M.T.

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