In 2011, the Idaho Legislature allocated state tax funds for bonus pay programs for teachers who produced high student achievement levels. Today, nearly two and a half years later, some of those same funds are being directed away from bonus pay programs and are left to the judgment of the local school districts how best to spend the money.
“The Legislature allocated $21 million to the school districts,” explained Luci Willits, chief of staff to Tom Luna, state school superintendent. The allocation of funds was the Legislature’s response to the rejection of ballot Propositions 1, 2 and 3 in last November’s election, which left the pathway of teacher bonus pay in question.
In 2011 the Legislature passed a series of bills comprising what was officially known as the Students Come First legislative package. Part of the program was a “pay-for-performance” plan, a system of bonus compensation for teachers whose students achieved certain benchmarks on standardized test scores.
When Idaho voters rejected the propositions in the November 2012 election, they removed the system of rewarding teachers with the bonus pay. But with an additional year’s worth of funds still allocated for the bonus pay program, the Legislature had to decide this year what to do with those funds.
At least part of that decision came in the form of Senate Bill 1199, a one-time spending bill that allocated money for what is known as “differential pay” for school district staff. But unlike the original pay-for-performance bonus pay system, the differential pay plan can be dispersed however local school district authorities deem appropriate.
“It is completely locally driven,” Willits told IdahoReporter.com. “Each school district will decide how they spend the money.” Additionally, up to 40 percent of the funds that each district receives under the new program can be spent on training teachers in how to participate in the national Common Core academic standards agenda.
“We chose to allocate 40 percent of our funds for professional development,” said Richard Conley, superintendent of the Boundary County School District in Bonners Ferry. While he was uncertain precisely how much the school district would be receiving under the differential pay system, Conley said that the professional development specifically will involve training teachers in the ways of the Common Core program.
Nampa School District officials are certain that they are eligible for $1.02 million from the differential pay program. And just as Boundary has chosen to do, Nampa school officials have also decided to allocate 40 percent of that money for training teachers to comply with the Common Core agenda.
However, the two school districts have selected different paths in spending the other 60 percent of the funding they will receive. According to Conley, Boundary will use its remaining funds for bonuses to be awarded to certificated personnel. Nampa schools, on the other hand, will use this same portion of funds to provide bonuses to “all district employees.”
In the Meridian School District, the state's largest, the district superintendent, Dr. Linda Clark, said the district is receiving $2,525,900 for the differentiated pay plan. While the Meridian district has also chosen to allocate 40 percent of that money for the implementation of the Common Core standards program, Clark noted that "approximately $630,000 went to purchase one day of training for all teachers (prior to the start of school). The balance of the 40 percent is being used to pay for substitute teachers while full-time teachers are in training throughout the year."
Clark said the remaining $1.5 million of funds will be allocated for bonus pay for teachers in the district, but also told IdahoReporter.com that "last year's pay for performance plan allocated $4.5 million” to her district.
In the Coeur d'Alene School District, the state's differentiated pay funds will be used for bonus pay among the district's staff, but not for Common Core implementation. According to CDA spokesperson Laura Rumpler, certificated personnel there will share $251,290 worth of bonuses, while $78,214 will be dispersed for bonus among non-certificated staff.
"We believe that the plan is fair and an accurate representation of rewarding excellence," Rumpler said. While noting that the implementation of Common Core standards in the district poses challenges to the process of evaluating student achievement and, thus, to evaluating a teacher's performance, Rumpler added that "we are looking for a long-term solution to a complex problem of how to make this meaningful and effective."
The future of performance-based bonus pay for Idaho teachers remains in question and will likely be addressed during the 2014 legislative session.
Earlier this year, Gov. Butch Otter’s education reform task force approved the recommendation of what is being called a “Career Ladder” bonus pay approach. If implemented, the plan would grant bonus pay based on a combination of teacher training and licensure levels, as well as measurements of student achievement.
“Supt. Luna has long supported changing the way teachers are paid from a system of credits and years of service to a system that rewards excellence and quality of teaching,” Willits told IdahoReporter.com. “He supports this task force recommendation.”
While some reports have indicated that Otter has already given his approval of the Career Ladder concept, the governor’s press secretary indicates otherwise. “The governor has talked about the task force’s recommendations in broad strokes, but he has not ‘officially’ endorsed the Career Ladder system,” spokesman Jon Hanian told IdahoReporter.com. “He has said he is still studying those recommendations and also wants to see the public input on them before he goes into much more detail.”