Tennessee Education Association

Great Public Schools for All Students

            

While progress is made, more to be done to improve Tennessee teacher pay

With $72 million in this year’s state budget for teacher raises, and $430 million over the past five years, there would be an expectation that all teachers would see improvement on their pay stub. 

TEA salary data shows that in previous years the amount of additional funding would have led to substantial increases in average teacher pay. Yet the state comptroller found what TEA and teachers already know—the average salary increase was little more than half that figure.

There have been recent notable victories in teacher raises across the state. After months of #RedforEd demonstrations, job actions and packing council meetings, association leaders in Nashville won a 4.5% raise for teachers, while Knox County association leaders pushed and achieved 4%. However, this year’s raises vary widely across systems.  

After years of TEA advocacy on salaries, the Lee administration and General Assembly know something must be done. Recently passed legislation now requires school systems to account for how they use salary funding increases, transparency that will be helpful at the state and local level. And the comptroller’s report, which TEA assisted with, is seen as a call to action on salaries and benefits.    

“Many teachers across the state have not seen the benefits of state increases,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “The comptroller’s report found what I knew in my own county: we haven’t gotten a raise in years.” 

For the first time, Tennessee teachers have a higher average salary than Alabama, going from 39th to 35th in state rankings, but Tennessee still lags behind some other neighboring states. 

“Our ‘Beat Bama’ campaign worked. Now we need a ‘Beat Kentucky’ effort. It will take more than $200 million in the state budget for salaries to beat our neighbor to the North, but it is an achievable goal when looking at state revenue collections.  We will all need to keep up our advocacy to meet our 20/20 goals on funding,” Brown said.  

Often the most important work on salary improvement is done locally, as Nashville and Knox County have shown. Whether a local association is negotiating an MOU through conferencing or wants to apply pressure to boards or commissions for better compensation, TEA and its staff are working to assist members. Some helpful resources are available to all members, including:  

TEA fact sheets on additional state salary funding for each system, the number of instructional personnel in the system, and what salary increases in dollars per staff would have occurred had all state salary funding gone to instructional salaries;  

TEA Comptracker, the state’s most comprehensive list of system salaries and benefits to help members compare their system with similar or neighboring systems; and

TEA training on collaborative conferencing (more than half of all Tennessee teachers are covered by an MOU) focusing on what is possible for salary increases.

“As more systems engage in collaborative conferencing, we are starting to see a real impact in how it helps not only getting state dollars into paychecks but help spur local governments to match those increases in funding,” Brown said. “Our state relies on local funding more than most of our neighbors, and conferencing often raises the bar on what local governments should do.” 

TEA UniServ play a critical part in conferencing and stand ready to help any local that wants to start the conferencing process. 

However, state action is clearly necessary to improve overall educator compensation, and TEA is the only organization in the Capitol fighting for a fix in state law. 

“We are already engaged in raising expectations and advocating for common sense action. Tennessee has one of the largest gaps between teacher salaries and similarly educated peers, and that must not continue,” Brown said. 

TEA has been highlighting the 2004 effort of the Bredesen administration and the General Assembly, engineering one of the largest teacher-pay hikes in state history, reducing the pay gap between rural and urban teachers while providing raises for all. It is a recent example of where there is a will there is always a way.       

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