A bill aimed at raising starter teacher pay got its first hearing this week in the Montana Legislature. Montana is ranked lowest in the country for starting teacher wages.
Lawmakers in the House Education Committee heard House Bill 143 on Monday. Republican Rep. Llew Jones is sponsoring the bill and calling it Tomorrow’s Educators Are Coming Home, or the TEACH, Act.
It would allocate roughly $2.5 million from the state’s general fund to create an incentive program for Montana school districts to pay their starting teachers a higher salary. Districts would need to pay an early-career teacher at least 70% of a mid-career salary to receive the incentive.
Jones says Montana's more experienced and mid-level teacher pay is in line with the rest of the country. The goal of the bill is to encourage districts to compress their pay scales and raise entry level pay. Participation in the incentive program isn’t mandatory.
“Some schools have already recognized this — they've began to compress the scales to try to do what it takes to bring the bottom up," Jones said. "But we’re not there yet, otherwise we wouldn’t be dead last in the country.”
Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte outlined the concept and the funding for the policy in his proposed budget. His top policy adviser, Glenn Oppel, spoke in support of the bill.
“Most starting teacher pay in Montana causes another brain drain that the governor wants to curtail," Oppel said.
Republican Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Artzen also spoke in support. Groups lobbying for public school interests, like the Montana Federation of Public Employees and the Montana School Boards Association, are backing the bill.