Public school teachers in Idaho who earned merit-based bonuses will be paid their additional income even though the law that allowed for the pay-for-performance compensation was overturned in the Nov. 6 general election.
The announcement came from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Luna during a Monday afternoon press briefing at the Idaho Department of Education offices in Boise. It was Luna’s first press briefing since Idaho’s Students Come First education reform laws were overturned at the ballot box with the defeat of Propositions 1, 2 and 3.
“I’m not interested in looking back, so much as I want to move forward,” Luna told the gathering of reporters. While saying that there has been a “22-month discussion across our state about education reform,” he also admitted that the process of debating and passing the Students Come First laws in the Legislature back in 2011, and then debating the referendum against them this year, has been “highly emotional.”
The decision to go forward with teachers’ merit-based bonuses is based on the legal reasoning of the office of the Idaho attorney general. On Oct. 31, Luna submitted a formal inquiry to the attorney general’s office, asking “if Proposition 2 (which allowed for the bonus pay) is repealed (in the election), will local school districts and public charter schools have the legal authority to distribute the pay-for-performance bonuses to individual teachers after the Nov. 21 certification of the election?”
On Friday, Nov. 9, Andrew Snook, deputy attorney general, notified Luna’s office that school districts will have until Dec. 15 to pay performance bonuses to teachers, based on their professional achievements with students during the 2011-12 school year. “This is very good news,” Luna noted, adding that “our pay-for-performance plan wasn’t a perfect plan, but it was a good plan, and the fact that eight out of 10 teachers earned these bonuses demonstrates this.”
Still, Luna noted that the defeat of the ballot propositions has created hardship and uncertainty for some students and local schools. “We have students earning college credits concurrent with their high school coursework, and the state was budgeted to pay for those college credits. We now have no legal authority to make those payments.”
Luna added that in accordance with the reform measures, some schools have hired additional science and math teachers with the expectation that Luna’s department would provide funding for the new hires, but now the department cannot provide those funds.
“We tried to warn school districts about the repercussions that would ensue if the propositions were defeated,” Luna stated. “We began pushing out that information back in October, because we believed it was the responsible thing to do, the transparent thing to do, but we were accused of trying to scare people into voting yes so we stopped. Now, we’re telling local districts what has happened.”
Luna vowed to bring together “all the stakeholders in Idaho public education,” and decide which components of his education reform proposals should be reinstated. While Gov. Butch Otter has been publicly silent on the education reform issue since the election, Luna insisted that he believes the governor will play “a lead role” going forward.
“Our goal in Idaho is that by the year 2020, sixty (60) percent of high school students will go on to complete a post-secondary degree or certificate,” he said. “Right now that rate is 34 percent, so we’ve still got a lot yet to do to improve.”
When asked if he believed that voters didn’t adequately understand what was on the ballot, Luna acknowledged that it would be “unreasonable” for him to assume that voters fully understood everything that was entailed in each of the three laws.
“If you have to determine a loser in all this, then go ahead and label me,” he said. “But I will not allow the students and teachers to be losers. I will continue to lead, and to work toward our goals.”