The governor’s initial budget unveiled on March 4 has $71.3 million in salary increases for “teachers and other positions funded through the BEP formula for next year.” It’s a clear statement what the administration believes should happen. However, in the very next line, the governor budget recognizes a problem TEA has been battling for the past several years.
“The amount of the salary increases will depend on each LEA’s salary schedule and structure, but if applied across-the-board, this would be a 2.5% salary increase.”
Teachers across Tennessee know the ‘but’ in that sentence is not going to happen—unless the administration and General Assembly take concrete action. TEA is pounding the hallways of the Capitol to make sure it occurs.
“The teacher salary funding is substantial at $71 million, but the key will be to ensure that money actually ends up in teachers’ paychecks,” said TEA President Beth Brown.
TEA research shows the administration is right, $71.3 million for the instructional staff in Tennessee schools would provide close to a 2.5 a percent across-the-board raise. However, we all know record increases in teacher salary funds over the past several years haven’t gotten to all teachers’ paychecks. There needs to be a fix — this year.
The dillution of teacher salary dollars from state budgets to take-home pay has been well-communicated by TEA and understood by lawmakers. Reasons include the gutting of the state minimum salary schedule in 2014 and half measures by the state board in subsequent years, additional healthcare liabilities for support professionals, increasing state unfunded mandates like RTI, differentiated pay plans, and a drop-off in local matching funds all have weakened or eliminated raises state increases should have fostered.
“It is time the Lee administration and General Assembly take control of the situation,” Brown said. “We have seen in years past how good intentions aren’t enough to ensure teachers receive the raise that is promised. There are two ways TEA is proposing to close these loopholes.”
One option is for the General Assembly to take control of the state salary schedule, as it did in 2004, to raise all salaries. This option has the benefit of generating local matches where there have been none in recent years. Another option is to put a mandate that all BEP salary dollars go to instructional employee salaries in the budget legislation. Either approach will boost teacher salaries, especially for rural teachers who have seen little or no increases in recent years.
The hiccup in raises was caused by the Haslam administration’s push for differentiated pay, commonly known as “pay-for-test-scores.” Local flexibility was necessary for this misguided idea, even when most systems didn’t implement a test-based pay plan. Local flexibility often meant steering salary funds into other areas.
This is the year. Governor Lee’s staff put the language in the budget document that if the salary funds went to who they were intended, there would be a 2.5 percent raise. It is up to all of us to push to see his wishes come true.