GREAT FALLS — School districts across Montana have a new incentive to pay teachers more money, as Gov. Greg Gianforte signed Montana's TEACH Act into law on Friday at Sacajawea Elementary School in Great Falls. He was joined by state superintendent Elsie Arntzen and state Rep. Llew Jones of Conrad, who sponsored the bill.
The acronym in the name stands for "Tomorrow’s Educators Are Coming Home."
"It's critical that we have good teachers in front of our classrooms, and they work very hard, but they're not paid fairly today,” Gianforte said. According to the governor's office, Montana is last in the nation for starting teacher pay. In Great Falls, starting pay is about $36,000 a year.
The TEACH Act sets aside $2.5 million a year from the state's general fund to give to school districts that increase in starting pay to at least 70 percent of what a mid-career teacher makes.
In Great Falls, that would mean increasing starting pay to about $41,000 a year. "It's exciting,” said Kerry Datilo, Great Falls Public Schools director of Human Resources.
Datilo believes the TEACH Act can help recruit and retain teachers: "What our process now will be is figuring out the method in which to (increase starting salaries). So looking at what the revenue will be from this new bill versus what the cost will be for the district."
A process like that is what Gianforte says should happen. "I believe that local school boards should be making decisions about this, not mandates out of Helena. That's why this bill is structured as an incentive,” said Gianforte.
The TEACH Act takes effect July 1, meaning teachers in the school district could see a pay raise as early as the start of the next school year. Click here to read the full text of the new law.
Before signing the TEACH Act, Gianforte read the Dr. Seuss book "Green Eggs and Ham" to a classroom of first-grade students.