THE HISTORIC OPPORTUNITY FOR SALARY INCREASES | There is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for robust educator pay raises. The association is the means to see that it happens.
With a record $120 million in salary funds in the state budget, more than $50 million more in required local match, and a historic flood of billions in federal relief dollars to school systems, the fiscal climate to improve educator salaries has never been better.
“Legislators constantly ask how we can attract and retain people in the teaching profession. The answer is simple: pay them more,” said TEA Chief Lobbyist Jim Wrye. “The dollars are there. Now is the time for true professional salaries.”
The local budget process for the 2021-2022 school year is underway, and local governments now have the financial information needed to set funding priorities. A TEA- backed bill shielding school systems from a reduction in funding as a result of enrollment fluctuations during the pandemic passed during the session, further strengthening the opportunity for pay raises.
Metro-Nashville Mayor John Cooper recently proposed an increase in the district’s pay scale averaging $6,900 per teacher, with some increases up to $12,000. Nashville’s bold steps are an example of what is possible across the state.
For rural teachers, more tools are available. A TEA bill linking state funding increases with the state minimum salary schedule passed both the House and Senate unanimously. The new measure and other recently passed laws that drive new state funds into teacher paychecks are important tools for improving salaries.
“TEA’s focus has been to increase state salary funding and work to get it into teacher paychecks. The laws have been strengthened and the rules improved to meet those goals,” said TEA Executive Director Terrance Gibson. “We’ll be working hard to see the laws and rules are followed as budgets are prepared, and that new dollars improve salaries.”
Gibson notes that PECCA teams and local leaders in non-conferencing locals can rely on TEA expertise when questions arise as budgets are prepared.
While the billions in K-12 federal aid that are starting to flow to Tennessee schools are not recurring dollars, these one-time dollars can be used to offset costs that are often paid with recurring local dollars.
As an example, the cost of school building maintenance and upkeep are mostly paid with local funds. A district now has an opportunity to use the federal aid dollars to meet those maintenance and upkeep needs, which frees up local funds to apply to teacher salaries.
“The local budgeting process can be a frustrating experience for all involved because of years of insufficient state funding for public schools,” said Gibson. “County commissions and city councils want to provide the resources their schools need, but the funding needs of our schools can quickly outpace the local tax base when the state isn’t paying their fair share, especially in rural districts. This influx of federal aid money provides the perfect opportunity to better meet the funding needs of schools and provide a well-earned raise to educators.”
Now is the time for educators to organize at the local level to advocate for how their district uses the federal aid money. TEA members should contact their TEA UniServ coordinator (contact information is located on page 6) to discuss what actions to take to influence local elected officials.
“Educators are wrapping up a historic year full of disruptions, challenges, constant uncertainty and a whole new level of stress. Districts must take advantage of this opportunity to provide the historic raise Tennessee teachers have earned,” Gibson said.