Idaho’s Otter Pushes Tiered Licensure in Re-election Bid

Gov. Butch Otter of Idaho says his career ladder program to boost teacher pay is within the 2015-2016 budget parameters — a key point of his re-election campaign.

Endorsed by the State Board of Education subcommittee, the plan carries a five-year cost of $175 million, with the first year projected at $23.7 million. This is the most expensive recommendation from Otter’s education reform task force and has the purpose of increasing pay for new teachers and veteran teachers over the course of the five year commitment. The highest beginning pay would be $40,000 to $42,000.  Master teachers would receive $54,000 to $58,000, according to Kevin Richert writing for Idaho EdNews.

A teacher licensing plan is linked to the career ladder program. The Idaho Education Association is a leading opponent of the tiered licensure plan. Republican Sherri Ybarra and Democrat Jana Jones, both candidates for state schools superintendent, are encouraging the state to study state licensure carefully. Otter remains in favor of tiered licensure and attributes criticism to misunderstandings.

Because the Legislature and the governor will have to agree on future funding, some are concerned that there may be problems in coming years. The funding will be $39 million in year two; $45.6 million in year three; $36.8 million in year four; and almost $330.5 million in year five. The upcoming  Nov. 4 elections, bring up the question ,”Who will be writing the budgets?”.

Last week’s debate between Gov. Butch Otter and his challenger, Democrat A.J. Balukoff, businessman and long-time chairman of the Boise School Board, centered on education and the economy. Becky Kramer of The Spokesman-Review reports that Balukoff criticized the incumbent’s record on school achievement and the state’s economic performance.

Otter, running for a rare third term, says that Idaho is a fiscally conservative state with exceptional job growth and innovative residents. The third candidate is Libertarian John Bujak, and the fourth candidate is an independent who legally changed his name from Marvin Richardson to Pro-Life. Because of the governor’s divisive relationship with Idaho’s Republican Party, GOP voters might lean toward Bujak.

Otter’s re-election campaign tried to cash in on a Wallet-Hub study that ranked Idaho as the 12th best state for teachers, according to Michael H. O’Donnell, a reporter for the Idaho State Journal .

 “I appreciate the results of this survey because I want our teachers to know we value them,” Otter said. “That being said, I want Idaho to be an even better state for teachers. That’s why I put together the Task Force for Improving Education with the goal of removing the politics and angst from the conversation in order to get to the heart of what is right for Idaho students, teachers and our communities.”

The Wallet-Hub study included median starting salaries, annual teacher salaries, job openings per capita, and number of elementary and secondary schools per capita. Also measured was the projected population of ages 5 to 17 by 2030.

Pocatello Education Association president Tom Vanderen calls Otter’s tiered licensure plan punitive and says it will cause Idaho to seem less attractive to teachers. He adds that teachers in District 25 are working for 4% less than they were eight years ago. The shortage of teachers led the district to offer temporary one-year contracts to college seniors who needed hours to finish their student teaching requirement so that they could secure state certification. The only things that have kept schools going, says Vanderen, is voter support of supplemental levies and dedicated school teachers.

Nicholas K. Geranios, reporting for the Associated Press, covered other topics discussed in last weeks gubernatorial debate, which included: statistics that showed that Idaho under Otter had fallen near the bottom of all states in average wages, percent of people working for minimum wage, and in the low percentage of students going to college; a scandal around the bringing of broadband internet service to Idaho schools; recent reforms that will pour more money into education; and studies showing Idaho’s low unemployment and a fast-growing number of jobs.