- Associated Press - Thursday, March 26, 2015

BOISE, Idaho (AP) - Rookie teachers in Idaho would receive pay raises starting July 1 under a nearly $125 million proposal approved Thursday by the state Senate and sent to the governor for consideration.

The Senate passed the measure unanimously, with senators offering only praise that the 30-page bill had survived both chambers after seeing prior proposals flounder during the current legislative session.

Republican Sen. Dean Cameron from Rupert, co-chair of the powerful legislative budget committee, said the bill sets Idaho on the right track to attracting and retaining teachers.

“This move is expensive but we cannot afford to move forward without it,” he said.

The legislation is expected to receive Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter’s approval after he encouraged lawmakers to support it earlier this month.

Lawmakers have promised to raise teacher pay since they slashed the public schools budget in 2009 due to the economic downturn.

A governor’s task force was formed in 2013 and laid out 20 recommendations to better the state education system. Raising teacher pay was one of the most ambitious proposals and has been one of the most difficult to pass.

In the meantime, school officials have warned of the exodus of teachers seeking better paying positions. Rural school districts often rely on substitute teachers and non-instructional staff to take over classes due to the inability to attract teachers through competitive salaries.

Under the plan passed Thursday, beginning teacher salaries would go up by almost $1,000 to $32,700 a year in July. Over the next five years, first-year teacher pay would increase to $37,000 a year. However, the proposal depends on state revenue increasing 5.2 percent each year in order to fully fund it.

The legislation also comes with new accountability measures added to appease conservative lawmakers hesitant to approve a pricey proposal without oversight.

“I don’t think any of us did not ever want to give teachers more money,” said Republican Sen. Bob Nonini from Coeur d’Alene. “We just wanted to see accountability.”

Teachers will be split into two tiers. Beginning teachers will be placed in a residency category for their first three years. If they meet certain benchmarks, they would then move up into a professional tier After eight years, teachers could then work toward bonuses.

Professional-tier teachers would earn $42,000 to $50,000 a year depending on experience and education levels.

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