The Idaho State Legislature passed three bills this year
that have the potential to significantly improve the quality of education in
Idaho. It’s imperative that we are all cognizant of what the legislation
actually does, as opposed to what it purportedly does.
The Students Come First laws raise the minimum teacher
salary to $30,000 a year and also puts in place a funding mechanism to increase
the minimum salary for the future. They maintain the current salary
apportionment grid for teachers with longevity and added educational credits.
The Pay for Performance (PFP) plan provides extra
compensation for teachers who serve in hard-to-fill positions, like calculus
teachers in small school districts, or leadership roles, like mentoring new
teachers or developing curriculum. This comes as a bonus to those teachers on
top of their pay grid compensation. The local school board determines
hard-to-fill positions and the extra compensation.
PFP also allows for teachers to earn bonuses beyond their
base salary for meeting or exceeding student achievement goals at the state and
local levels. This will provide for the entire certified staff of a school to
receive bonus pay when their school is showing growth in student achievement.
Local school boards set local student achievement goals for bonus
Teacher tenure is preserved for those who already have it.
Those who don’t, including new hires, will not have continuous contracts, or
the guarantee of a teaching job regardless of their performance. They will be
offered one or two year contracts after a three-year probationary period.
Contrary to the disinformation and misinformation being
widely promulgated, collective bargaining and union representation are not
eliminated. Rather, their collective bargaining is limited to matters
pertaining to salary and benefits. In the past they could negotiate as part of
the contract things like bell schedule, school calendar, teacher evaluations,
and grading methods. This gives the local school board much more flexibility
and latitude in those peripheral issues without jeopardizing salary and benefit
The new legislation retains the right of local school boards
to maintain policies addressing grievance procedures for teachers, preparation
time, and extra duties. This is not eliminated, as has been erroneously
All collective bargaining sessions must now be conducted in
public. Since we as taxpayers pay their salary and benefits, it’s only logical
that these sessions should be more in compliance with Idaho’s open-meeting
All local school boards and school districts must be totally
transparent in fiscal matters, including master contracts and associated
information. Further, the State Department of Education will create a web-based
fiscal report card and will post financial data and statistics for every school
district, public charter school, and the state.
Teachers’ and principals’ evaluations will now be at least
partially based on the job they are hired to do, which is to teach our children.
The student achievement standards for evaluative purposes will be established
by the local school district.
For teachers who don’t already have a personal computer in
their classroom, beginning in the fall of 2012, they will get one. They will
also be trained on how to integrate computer technology into the curriculum and
into the classroom to raise student achievement.
Starting with the Fall semester of 2012, high school
teachers will be provided mobile computing devices. High school students will
be provided access to similar devices (most likely, inexpensive yet powerful
devices like Apple’s iPad). Local districts will determine how best to utilize
these devices on a daily basis and teachers will decide how to incorporate them
into the learning process. The local boards will also decide whether to allow
students to take them home or not.
Starting with the graduating class of 2016, students will
have some online curriculum. The State Board of Education will determine how
much will be done online, but local districts will determine the curriculum.
As taxpayers, we benefit by the increased transparency in
the disposition of financial resources. As parents of public schools, we
benefit by the increased focus on results and achievement, by rewarding schools
and teachers for jobs well done. The incorporation of technology in the
classroom and online curriculum helps the children learn how to use it to
augment their education, while increasing efficiency from a cost standpoint.
And the Students Come First legislation empowers teachers to earn more based on
their performance and grants more flexibility and authority to local school
boards to teach our children.
Even President Obama’s Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan,
has said, “Challenging the status quo will take courage. It will take
commitment. And it will take collaboration,” as he has laid out similar
proposals on a national level. Students Come First does challenge the status
quo in a way that benefits our students, despite what special interest groups
may be telling you.