The Idaho Statesman is reporting that state Superintendent Tom Luna is proposing a 5% increase in the education budget this year. In total, Luna is requesting an additional $64 million, with 90% of that earmarked for staff salaries and benefits including raises for teachers and other school employees. The hitch in the plan seems to be that the majority of those raises would go towards the fund from which pay-for-performance raises are disbursed, which will create a problem if the law that put the merit pay scheme into effect doesn't survive the voter referendum scheduled for November.
At issue are the three "Students Come First" laws that were passed by the legislature in 2011 and are in the process of being implemented across the state. Opponents of the laws, which curtail teachers' collective bargaining rights, introduce merit as a component in determining salary levels, and aim to distribute laptops to students in high schools across Idaho, have managed to collect the necessary number of signatures to put all three in front of voters this upcoming election day.
If the law dealing with the pay-for-performance system is rejected by the voters, more than $60 million in the merit bonus pool set aside to be disbursed during the 2013-14 academic year will also disappear.
Other planned boosts to teacher pay will remain in the proposed budget regardless of what happens in the election. Luna proposes thawing one of the two experience steps that have been frozen in the Idaho teacher pay grid, yielding $6.2 million, and restoring a $14.8 million (1.67 percent) cut in base salaries that was part of implementing the new education laws.
Groups opposing the SCF laws, like the Idaho Education Association and the Idaho School Boards Association, say that restoring base salaries for teachers — which are still below the level they were before the 2008 recession began — is their first priority. Karen Echeverria, who heads up the School Boards Association, said that she was heartened to see that Luna shared this concern by including the request for the base salary increase in his budget proposal. The 2% increase in funding that is left to the discretion of the school board is also part of that request.
Idaho Education Association President Penni Cyr said Thursday she hasn't had a chance to go over the budget proposal in detail, but "I know he's going for a 5 percent increase, and we're pleased to see he's interested in repairing the damage that's been done." through budget cuts in recent years.
The IEA is among the most vocal opponents of the three new education laws and helped lead the push to get them on the November ballot for possible repeal.