Idaho Educators make early push to continue increasing teacher pay

Idaho Educators and the Push for Increasing Teacher Salary

On July 26, 2017, the Idaho State Department of Education received intentions from Education groups that their intent is to continue increasing teacher salary. Under current Idaho legislation, teacher’s salary is determined by using a career ladder. The House Bill for the career ladder was signed in 2015 and is a five-year plan to increase teacher pay. This career ladder was developed to give all teachers a pay raise, annually. When the plan is fully implemented in 2019-2020, teachers in the first three years of teaching will make $37,000 to $39,000 per year. Teachers with more than three years of teaching experience will make $42,500 to $50,000 annually. This plan raises the base teacher salary as well as experienced teacher’s salaries. The current average teacher salary in Idaho, reported by IDEdNews, is $45,207. Increasing teacher salary is something on which all sides appear to agree. It is the hope of all parties involved to attract teachers to Idaho.

Career Ladder

One of the hopes for the career ladder was attracting teachers to districts who were experiencing difficulty getting new teachers to apply at their schools. In 2015 for example, Northern Idaho pay was 15% less than a district 30 miles away in Washington. Another hope was to retain experienced teachers. Also in 2015, an experienced teacher could make $13,000 more by moving across the border into Oregon. This lack of pay for teachers developed a low morale among Idaho teachers. Neighboring states pay more in starting salary to their teachers. Over the course of five years, the career ladder will increase those salaries and help school districts attract and retain effective teachers.

After the bill was signed in 2015, school districts were given $33.5 million for teacher pay. Schools could decide how to implement the career ladder or if they wanted to implement the career ladder. Districts could keep their existing pay scale and negotiate pay raises. That was a popular option for many of Idaho’s school districts. The career ladder boosts beginning teacher pay, but one of the challenges will be finding money to keep experienced teachers. Most of the career ladder money goes to beginning teachers. The legislature chose not to create a top tier cap at $60,000. Instead, they capped it at $50,000. In the 2019-2020 school year, the Master Educator Premium will be instituted to reward Idaho’s most experienced teachers.

Another aspect of the career ladder is teacher evaluation. Most of Idaho uses the Danielson model for teacher evaluations. Idaho law requires that administrators conduct a minimum of two classroom observations per year for every teacher in the building. The creator of the model, Charlotte Danielson, is troubled by the fact a teacher evaluation is being used to award raises. Danielson is not the only one concerned about the evaluation. Currently, Idaho Governor Otter is concerned about the accuracy of teacher evaluations. The state needs an accountability piece to justify the millions spent on teacher pay. Because of those concerns, $1 million of funding has been provided to train administrators in teacher evaluations.


Top Issues for Idaho’s Superintendent of Public Education

Along with increasing teacher pay, the Superintendent of Public Education, Sherri Ybarra is going to try a third time to make a rural school support center a reality. She would like to see the mastery-based education pilot program expanded to more than the current 19 participants. Funding for technology in the classroom is also on her list of priorities. Superintendent Ybarra must have her budget package to the Governor Otter by September 1.

Top Issues for Idaho Education Leaders & Groups

Education Leaders also have more priorities than ensuring teacher’s salaries are increased. They would like to see increases in funding for classified staff that are not currently covered by the career ladder. Education leaders would like to see more local control of how their monies are spent rather than have certain dollar amounts earmarked for specific spending. Professional development funding for teachers to increase their skill set to help students is also another priority.

The Legislative School Funding Formula Committee will meet during the summer months to look at modifying or overhauling how Idaho schools are funded. They will be discussing insurance and Master Educator Premium issues. An Educator Pipeline Workgroup has also formed to look at possible solutions for Idaho’s teacher shortage.

Revisions to the Idaho Payday Loan Act, authored by Twin Falls Republican Sen. Lee Heider

When it comes to the payday lending industry in Idaho, Republican Senator Lee Heider has done what he can to protect consumers and help them stay out of the debt cycles that are all too common with short-term loans. While there is still work to be done, he has at least made progress.

Here’s how payday loans work in Idaho

The Payday Loan Process

For consumers in need of fast cash, payday loans are often the fastest option. The payday loan process is as follows:

1. The consumer goes to the payday loan company’s office and fills out brief paperwork.
2. As long as the consumer has a job and a bank account, the payday loan company will approve them for a loan.
3. The payday loan company lends the consumer their desired amount.
4. The consumer writes the payday loan company a check for the loan plus the finance charge.
5. The payday loan company waits until the next pay period, typically two weeks, and then cashes the consumer’s check.

The payday loan company doesn’t run a credit check on consumers and the entire process hardly ever takes longer than an hour. Because of this, payday loan companies get quite a few low-income borrowers and they need money to cover an emergency.

The Dangers of Payday Loans

So, what’s the problem with the payday lending industry? It all comes down to the interest rates on payday loans, which are astoundingly high. For comparison’s sake, a high-interest credit card or loan could have an interest rate of 36 percent. The average interest rate on payday loans in Idaho are 582 percent. That’s the highest in the nation, but it’s not like Idaho is an outlier here. In states where payday loans are legal, interest rates are almost always extremely high, unless there are laws preventing it.

Let’s say you get a payday loan for $1,000. At that interest rate of 582 percent, you’ll need to pay $242.50 in interest after the first two weeks, meaning you’ll write the lender a check for $1,242.50. One of two things would typically happen in Idaho after that. The lender would try to cash the check, but the consumer didn’t have the money and would get hit with overdraft penalties. Lenders often would try to cash checks several times resulting in more fees for the consumer.

Or, the consumer refinances their loan with the lender. The standard method of refinancing a payday loan is paying the interest and starting up a new term. The problem with this is you then need to pay more interest for that new term, putting you in the same position as before. The Idaho Payday Loan Act does put a limit to renewals on payday loans, capping them at three before the loan must be paid in full.

Changes to the Idaho Payday Loan Act

As of July 1, 2014, changes went into effect for the Idaho Payday Loan Act. Senator Heider sponsored Senate Bill 1314, which contained several provisions designed to protect consumers.

It started by putting a cap on the amount that payday loan companies could lend to consumers. The maximum amount for a payday loan is now 25 percent of the borrower’s gross monthly income or $1,000, whichever is lower. This ensures that consumers don’t borrow more than they can afford to pay back.

To keep consumers from getting hit with overdraft fee after overdraft fee, the bill stipulates that lenders can initial present the check once, and then present it again two more times should the loan still be unpaid.

To prevent consumers from ending up in a cycle of debt, the bill requires that lenders offer extended payment plans for consumers who request them. These payment plans give consumers the opportunity to repay a payday loan over 60 days in four equal payments without any extra fees. However, consumers can only request this for one payday loan every 12 months.

Finally, the bill requires payday loan companies to include a disclosure in 12-point bold, capitalized font. There are six disclosures that lenders must provide to all consumers. This ensures that consumers are fully informed regarding how payday loans work and their rights.

Interest Rates Are Still an Issue

The obvious omission from Senate Bill 1314 is anything related to payday loan interest rates, which can still be as high as the lender wants. That has led to some criticism that the bill doesn’t offer much in the way of protection that wasn’t already part of the Idaho Payday Loan Act.

Idaho Community Action executive director Terri Sterling says that consumers are still vulnerable and advocates for a 36-percent interest rate limit on payday loans. It would seem that this limit allows payday lenders to continue to make money while retaining a competitive advantage over other lenders that take longer to approve borrowers for loans. Of course, the payday lending industry always pushes back against anything that threatens its profits, and 36-percent interest is quite a bit smaller than 582-percent interest.

The good news is that more traditional lenders in Idaho have started offering short-term loans of their own with interest rates starting at 15 percent. This gives consumers who would have previously turned to payday loans another option.

The Future of Payday Lending in Idaho

Right now, the payday lending industry is still thriving in Idaho due to those high interest rates. While the consumer protections of Senate Bill 1314 help, they don’t solve the dangers of payday loans, and it’s a bit like putting a band-aid on a broken arm.

If Idaho ends up capping short-term loan interest rates in the future, expect to see many payday loan companies leave the state. That’s what has happened in several other states that passed laws establishing interest rate limits for short-term loans.

Idaho officials pitch new plan to address Medicaid gap

Idaho Plans to Address Medicaid Gap

Medicaid has been an issue for the state of Idaho for several years now. Lawmakers are attempting to come up with creative solutions to address the problem. Idaho has had problems with Medicaid in the past with regard to cuts in services covered as well as billing problems. The Affordable Care Act was intended to help Idahoans by expanding coverage of Medicaid. Idaho elected not to expand. This article outlines the Medicaid gap, Idaho’s history with Medicaid expansion, how officials plan to solve the gap and what the plan would mean for residents.

Understanding the Medicaid Gap

Idaho is currently trying to solve a complex health care problem—getting the poorest in the state covered under health insurance. Right now it faces a Medicaid gap. When it was passed in 2010, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provided for the expansion of Medicaid in order to give the poorest in each state medical coverage. After a Supreme Court ruling in June 2012 which made Medicaid expansion optional, Idaho decided not to expand the program despite later attempts to expand it.

For states that did elect to expand Medicaid, the ACA provides coverage to people who have incomes at or below 138% of the poverty line. In the case of Idaho, electing not to expand coverage meant keeping the very limited rules of Medicaid. In order to qualify for Medicaid in most states including Idaho, people must have a certain income threshold to meet.

Those that do not meet the income threshold for Medicaid must purchase insurance through the state insurance exchange. The Medicaid Gap forms when there are people who make too much money to qualify for Medicaid and too little to afford regular insurance.

About 2.6 million adults fall into this gap nationally. The Western region including Idaho has 3% of that population.

History of Insurance and Medicaid Expansion in Idaho

  • Shortly after the Supreme Court decision in 2012, Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter requested a working group of Medicaid expansion and the creation of an Idaho insurance exchange. In November, the working group for Medicaid recommended expansion. For almost 4 years, bills were introduced in the legislature for expansion and the working group continued to recommend it too. But no progress was made with regard to Medicaid Expansion.
  • A plan called “Healthy Idaho” which would ensure those up to 100 percent of the poverty line through Medicaid is introduced in 2014. The remaining 38% in the 138 percent ACA provision are insured through state exchanges. It does not go anywhere at the time.
  • At the start of 2016, Governor Otter and Idaho Department of Health and Welfare Director Dick Armstrong introduced a primary care program targeted toward those in the Medicaid gap at a cost of $30 million. It hit a roadblock in the legislature. Democrats thought the coverage provided by the program should be more comprehensive. Republicans, in contrast, were wary of the cost and the idea of a welfare program.
  • A Medicaid expansion bill and a bill to implement Healthy Idaho are introduced at that time. But they don’t get anywhere. Around this time, lawmakers begin to discuss getting a Federal Medicaid expansion waiver in order to create their own state plan.

Trying to Get Coverage for All

As of the last attempt to expand Medicaid in March 2017, 78,000 people in the state fell into the coverage gap. They did not meet the income requirement and they didn’t make enough money to purchase insurance through the state exchange.

Instead of trying to expand Medicaid like they have in the past, Idaho officials now want to introduce waiversto the state legislators like they talked about in 2016. If approved, these waivers would ask the federal government to provide subsidies to adults that earn too much for Medicaid. These subsidies would help them afford insurance in the state exchanges. Medicaid would then be preserved for sicker patients to get the coverage they need. If the legislature passes the proposed plan, 38,000 people would be covered under health insurance and premiums would go down by 20%.

Department of Insurance Director Dean Cameron and the now former DHW Dick Armstrong are behind this proposal. They estimate that 40% of insurance claims in the insurance exchange is made by the sickest adults which are about 2,500. Getting them off of the exchange is expected to lower premiums. The cost would be $22 million because the state would be partly matching Medicaid expansion funds from the Federal Government.

The plan will be discussed at the start of the 2018 legislative session.

Creating Stability

Officials have said that they have introduced this plan to stabilize the insurance marketplace mainly. This is to ensure that people have as many options for coverage as possible. The second purpose of the plan is to make sure as many people as possible get coverage.

Those who are currently costing the most on the state insurance exchange would not be required to switch to Medicaid. They could still buy insurance. However, it would offer those people access to cheaper prescriptions and their medical care costs would not be as high. Idaho currently gives women who are classified as low-income coverage under Medicaid for certain cancers. The state would simply be using the same framework and give it to more people.

Idaho would fair better under the ACA system if they took the Medicaid expansion provision. Up to 90% of the cost for the expansion would be matched by the Federal Government. But officials say that opting for their own plan is a better solution given the uncertainty of health care under Congress. Under the most recent healthcare bill, Graham-Cassidy, Idaho would receive a boost in funding. It would only be temporary though. Starting in 2027, the state would see massive cuts. So wariness of Federal healthcare is not completely unfounded.

The solution proposed by officials in Idaho is not an instant fix. If it is approved, the plan would take nearly a year to put into place. In the meantime, about 5 percent of the state population will still be in the Medicaid gap.

What to Know

  • 78,000 people are currently in the Medicaid Gap
  • Waivers would be introduced to the Legislature in 2018.
  • They would waive federal Medicaid expansion and request subsidies to cover people in the state exchange.
  • Sicker people have the option of going to Medicaid
  • Lower premiums would be in effect as a result
  • It would take 1 year to implement
  • The latest federal health care proposal would hurt Idaho in the long run.