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Montana set to raise starting pay for public school teachers

by IRIS SAMUELS Associated Press
| March 5, 2021 2:00 PM

HELENA (AP) — Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law on Friday a measure aimed at increasing starting teacher pay, making good on a promise from his election campaign.

The measure creates financial incentives for school districts to increase salaries of educators who are in their first three years of teaching.

"The goal of the TEACH Act is to incentivize local schools to pay beginning teachers more so we can keep new educators in the state," said the bill's sponsor Rep. Llew Jones, a Republican from Conrad.

The new law would provide additional state funding to school districts that set starting teacher pay at a minimum of $34,000, an amount that would increase annually with inflation. If a district has more than 6,500 students, beginning teachers would have to make 70% of the district's median teacher salary for the district to qualify for the incentive.

The program will take effect in 2023 and is estimated to cost the state $3 million annually by 2025.

According to the most recent data from the National Center for Education Statistics, the average base salary for teachers with two or fewer years of experience in Montana is $35,210, well under the national average of $42,440, placing Montana among the five lowest states in the nation.

When accounting for teachers' entire career span, average salaries in Montana rank in the middle of the pack among U.S. states at $54,000, compared to the national average of $62,730.

Two of the states that ranked below Montana in NCES's 2018 data for beginning educator salaries – New Mexico and Idaho – have since increased beginning teacher pay, setting salaries at a minimum of $40,000 in both states in 2019.

Proponents of the measure have said it will stop early career teachers in Montana from taking positions in neighboring states such as Wyoming, where minimum teacher pay is more than 30% higher.

Gianforte signed the law in a ceremony at Sacajawea Elementary School in Great Falls, saying it would "make it easier for tomorrow's educators to stay in Montana or come back home," according to a news release.

Before signing the measure, Gianforte read Dr. Seuss' Green Eggs and Ham to a classroom of first-grade students.

The bill saw broad bipartisan support, with all but two of 150 lawmakers voting in favor, and garnered approval from the Montana School Board Association and the Montana Federation of Public Employees.