Just two months after TEA called for a six percent state raise for teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would propose a four percent increase in the budget. The total earmarked for raises totals approximately $100 million, and would be the largest pay increase in more than a decade.
At four percent, the average Tennessee teacher pay increase would be approximately $2,000 annually, not including step raises.
“The governor’s proposal to putting these funds into teacher salaries is a great first step to fulfilling his promise to make Tennessee the fastest improving in teacher salaries. Now it is our job to make sure this raise stays in the budget,” said TEA president Barbara Gray.
Last year a two percent teacher raise was cut from the budget when corporate excise taxes—a tax on profits—dropped unexpectedly. TEA has been working to find fixes for the holes in the corporate excise tax and other revenue problems in order to increase investment in schools and improve educator salaries. The Haslam administration is now on the same page.
"After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget,” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on February 9. “Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.” Haslam wants the General Assembly to create the “Revenue Modernization Act” that would close some loopholes used by multi-state companies and level the playing field for Tennessee-based businesses.
“In order for us to ensure raises actually get passed this go round, every teacher needs to be ready for the fight on revenue. We never want repeated what happened last year,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Director of Government Relations. “And we should not stop at just four percent. If revenue continues to rebound, we should add more funding to salaries. There is a reason we asked for six percent, and that is the lack of raises most teachers have had in the past two years.”
Last year there was no raise. In 2013-14, most teachers did not receive the 1.5 percent raise passed by the General Assembly due to the gutting of the State Minimum Salary Schedule by the State Board of Education at the request of then commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.
“Increasing salaries in the state budget is our number one priority. Without a state raise, most teachers won’t see an increase. We’ll work on it every day of the session,” said Wrye.
The large figure for teacher salary increases proposed by the governor was a strong first step. There are also critical budget areas TEA is working on, including health insurance costs, classroom supply money, and pay equity funds that need to be added to the state budget. TEA is the only organization in the statehouse working to find revenue for education funding, and is ready to assist the administration in their goal.
“The increase really shows that the governor is listening to teachers and beginning to understand the economic hardships they have been facing. It is an encouraging start to a new legislative session to see the administration working hard to find a way to support our hardworking educators,” said Gray. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years.”