The Idaho State Board of Education got troubling news this week when the Idaho Center for Fiscal Policy
released a report showing Idaho educators have been hit hard by inflation despite a $250 million, 5-year Teacher Career Ladder program
meant to bolster their pay.
"We're often not talking in real-dollar terms, and it's easy to show this increase [in teacher pay] over time when you're speaking in nominal figures, but once you take into account inflation, it's a different story," said Sasha Pierson, a policy analyst for ICFP. "As you know, when someone's checking out at the grocery store, what really matters is how far your dollar goes, not how much it's theoretically increased from a couple of years ago."
According to the report, Idaho teachers made an average of approximately $44,000 per year during the 2014-15 school year. That rate rose to approximately $48,000 by the 2017-18 school year—an 8.8 percent increase. Adjusted for inflation, however, salaries only grew by an average of $433, or approximately .9 percent.
Idaho's Career Ladder
program, now in its forth year, aimed to recruit and retain teachers by normalizing pay. Implemented in 2015, it created a tiered pay ladder for standard, professional and master teachers, with pay grades ranging from $40,000 per year to $60,000 per year, at a taxpayer cost of $250 million over five years. With the state in the second half of a major pay overhaul
, Pierson said that "while we're seeing gains, we definitely have a long way to go if our goal is to increase teacher quality and retain and attract more teachers."
In a follow-up email, she wrote, "If the investment had been made immediately in the first year and included an agreement to keep up with inflation, teachers would have seen larger gains in their purchasing power."
ICFP noted that despite the Career Ladder, Idaho ranks 43rd in the nation for teacher pay. In 2016-17, teachers in the Gem State earned $12,420 less than the national average. They now earn 6.8 percent less than they did 20 years ago, according to the National Center for Education Statistics
The ranking and wages make Idaho comparable to states across the country where teachers have gone on strike over pay. Earlier
this year, six states—Arizona, Colorado, Kentucky, North Carolina, Oklahoma and West Virginia—saw teachers conduct walkouts or strikes over school funding and teacher pay. In Arizona, teachers earned on average $101 less during the 2016-17 school year than their Idahoan counterparts; Kentucky teachers made $4,835 more.
Low wages are part of a web of factors impacting Idaho teachers and students. Between the 2011-12 and 2016-17 school years, student enrollment increased by 6 percent, and according to a January 2018 report
from Regional Educational Laboratory Northwest
, the ranks of teachers who are partially certified or have less than three years of experience are growing in the Gem State. That same report found that one in five teachers did not return to their schools year after year, and low-performing schools, low-income schools and schools in rural areas
were hardest hit.
"This has potential repercussions for the future of Idaho's economy, since studies show that children with less experienced teachers and high teacher turnover do not perform as well academically
," Pierson wrote.