On Nov. 6, Idaho voters will have an opportunity to vote on Propositions 1, 2 and 3 — referendum that will either affirm or overturn the three pieces of “Students Come First” legislation approved by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Otter in March 2011.
Proposition II addresses the teacher merit pay law officially known as S1110 and is simply worded as follows: “Shall the legislation providing teacher performance pay based on state-mandated test scores, student performance, hard-to-fill positions and leadership be approved?”
Straightforward enough. Voters say “Yes” and merit pay for teachers is affirmed. Voters say “No” and come Nov. 7 merit pay is thrown out.
The question is — what happens to the teacher merit pay for the fiscal year ending June 30 if voters say “No”? The fiscal year, which corresponds to school year 2011-12 that also ended in June, was the inaugural school year in which teachers could earn merit pay to be paid later this fall.
Our view is this: the law was in effect for the past school year; the criteria for determining merit pay were established for the past school year; $38 million in state funds were set aside in last year’s budget to fund merit pay for the year; and the bonuses were earned in the past school year — therefore those merit payments ought to be paid regardless of the referendum outcome on Proposition II.
However, according to state Department of Education Communication Director Melissa McGrath, the state will not have the authority to distribute those funds if voters say “No.”
Clarification was sought from the state attorney general’s office, but Bob Cooper of the AG’s office could not comment on whether or not the attorney general had been contacted by the Department of Education for an opinion citing attorney-client privilege. Cooper is correct — he shouldn’t comment on whether or not Superintendent Luna’s office has requested a ruling. McGrath said that the Department of Education doesn’t have a ruling because they believe the matter is covered by the portion of state code that says they have until Dec. 15 to make pay-for-performance distributions.
We don’t believe that’s the point. Voters deserve to know whether their vote on Proposition II will be retroactive to a fiscal year already completed and undue merit pay already earned. And they deserve to know that it will not.
Pay-for-performance was our state law last year and those payments need to be distributed regardless of the Nov. 6 results. Any other decision again risks making Student Come First all too synonymous with Teachers Come Last.