While many states still haven’t recovered from the Great Recession, TN is a leader in K-12 state funding increases
In 2014, Gov. Bill Haslam promised to lead the nation in teacher salary increases, but had no pay funds in the budget when revenue dropped. TEA was highly critical, and the governor took exception. We explained to him that when he was wrong he’d hear it, and when right, well, he’d hear that too.
Over the past three years as TEA pushed for Haslam’s promise to be fulfilled, the administration and General Assembly have made record increases in the state K-12 budget, including back-to-back 4 percent raises totaling more than $400 million. With state coffers still full as the state economy grows, the revenue is available for another major teacher pay increase.
The Great Recession hit states, and their schools, hard in 2008, and in the years since. Almost half of all states still haven’t recovered the level of funding they provided prior to the financial meltdown, with neighboring states of Alabama and Kentucky continuing to see shortfalls almost a decade later (see graph at right).
Back in 2009, because of the fiscal health of the state and the work of then Gov. Phil Bredesen, with the demand that K-12 not be cut by overriding requirements in the BEP, Tennessee was in less of a school funding hole due to the recession than other states. Yet because of just how deep the recession went, for many years state budgets were flat and teacher salaries remained stagnant.
Tennessee has increased overall K-12 spending by more than 10 percent since the Great Recession, with most of that increase coming in the past four years. The state ranks eighth among all states for increases in state spending since 2008.
With Tennessee’s economy growing and an unemployment rate at record lows, state revenue continues to grow rapidly. The Haslam administration and leaders in the General Assembly have passed budgets that substantially increased K-12 funds, with the largest share of the increases going to teacher compensation, more than $700 million since 2014.
Yet potential K-12 funding growth has not been tapped. The state has budgeted using conservative revenue estimates that were far lower than what the economy actually generated, creating surpluses totaling more than $2 billion in the past three years.
Much of the surplus went into the state rainy day fund, and in some one-time expenditures such as the new state museum and archives.
State budgeting begins with past revenue collections and estimates of revenue growth through economic forecasts. The current budget year estimated revenue growth at more than 3 percent, a mark that has been exceeded as in years past, but not at such a high rate.
Adding the estimated growth in revenue during the next fiscal year, there is opportunity to increase state K-12 funding, funds for salaries.
The state budget is currently being planned, and there are a lot of considerations for spending next year, including other areas of education not including salaries. But in a time when revenue is available, TEA calls on the administration and legislators to add $125 million to the BEP for teacher compensation, and take steps to ensure it all goes to teacher paychecks.
Let’s hope Gov. Haslam, Lt.Gov McNally, and Speaker Harwell can finish the 110th General Assembly in style with education investment and helping make teacher pay worthy of the profession.