As local school budgets passed across the state, the summer shaped up to be one of the best in years for educator raises. TEA member advocacy led to robust improvements in salary schedules, strong state mandates on pay increases, and a flood of federal education dollars that could be used for compensation or to free up local funding to improve pay.
“We made important steps to meeting our goal of professional pay. For years we’ve pushed to get more state dollars for education salaries and worked to ensure they got into paychecks. We saw substantial progress on both of these fronts this year,” said TEA President Beth Brown.
The General Assembly unanimously passed TEA-backed legislation guaranteeing teacher salary funding in state budgets increased the State Minimum Salary Schedule for teachers, driving those dollars into paychecks. The state budget had $120 million earmarked for teacher compensation, a 4% increase, and the state schedule had to increase by that amount or more. It turned out to be more.
TEA pushed for the state to act boldly on the state minimum, rewarding teachers who had endured a difficult school year due to COVID. The State Board of Education approved the largest increase in decades, increasing the base by $2,000 to total $38,000. This resulted in a 5.5% increase for every step on the state schedule.
“Getting large improvements in the state minimum not only impacts teachers at or near those steps in the state schedule, it also creates upward pressure on all educator salaries. A rising tide lifts all boats,” Brown said.
Teachers in most school districts received raises under the new minimum salary schedule, with many of these educators among the lowest paid in the state.
“I taught in a rural county, so I understand what it’s like to go years without seeing a pay raise,” Brown said. “Many teachers in poor counties can barely make ends meet, let alone get professional compensation. Getting a minimum $2,000 raise is a significant step in the right direction and sets a precedent for future salary fights.”
Members across Tennessee saw success in negotiating improved schedules through collaborative conferencing and other forms of advocacy working with their school boards and funding bodies to provide more local money to bolster salaries. Teachers in Nashville secured unprecedented investment in pay for their licensed staff, but also restructured their local salary schedule to include step raises every year for their teachers.
The average raise for Nashville teachers was nearly $7,000, with some mid-career teachers getting more than $12,000.
TEA is continuing to collect and compare 2020-2021 salary schedules and information on bonuses provided by federal stimulus dollars to continue the progress toward better professional pay.
“We can and will build on the success of this year,” Brown said. “Once you’ve set a precedent like this, it provides an opportunity not just to meet it, but exceed it in coming years.”