In back-to-back years, Governor Bill Haslam has proposed, and the General Assembly has passed, budgets that include more than 9 percent increases for teacher salaries. However, many teachers around the state have been left wondering: Where’s my raise?
The Huffman Pay Plan
Former Education Commissioner Kevin Huffman was bad news on a lot of fronts, but he was particularly harmful to teacher pay. Huffman was instrumental in gutting the state minimum salary schedule for teachers, reducing it from 20 steps to three, and five categories to two. There are now only four steps and the last required raise comes at year 11. Current Education Commissioner Candice McQueen continues to support this ill-conceived salary schedule, and it has been a raw deal for Tennessee’s teachers. Prior to its gutting, the state minimum salary schedule provided a way to leverage local dollars and also ensured state dollars made it into teacher paychecks. Without it, teachers are too often left behind.
Fuzzy Math at the State Board
While the Governor and General Assembly passed 9 percent increases in BEP salary allocation in the last two years, many teachers didn’t see anywhere close to that show up in their paychecks. Following the recommendation of Commissioner McQueen, the State Board increased the salary schedule by only 2 percent in 2015 and 3 percent in 2016.
Those actions broke years of precedent. Prior to 2015, when the General Assembly allocated money for raises, the State Board adjusted the salary schedule at the same percentage.
Now the board increases the weakened schedule by approximately half the state’s increase to give districts “flexibility” in teacher pay. Unfortunately, flexibility often means money intended for raises doesn’t always end up in teacher paychecks.
In a number of districts, increases in insurance premiums eat up some or all of any pay increase, or the system used those dollars for benefits. The state has provided significantly more money for teacher insurance in each of the last two budgets in addition to new salary money.
Nevertheless, some districts use their newfound financial flexibility to give small bumps in pay or give none at all.
TEA has proposed that the General Assembly take control of the minimum salary schedule, adding more steps and increasing the entire matrix by the same percentage increase in state teacher salary funds. Such a step would increase local contributions and move state funds into paychecks.
Re-establishing some aspects of the schedule will give the state and local associations the leverage they need to increase salaries.
This year, the governor proposed a 4 percent increase for teacher pay. TEA will work to ensure that this year’s raise makes it into the wallets of our state’s teachers.
The time is now to start talking to your state legislators and local leaders to thank them for their efforts to increase money for salaries and ask them to work with TEA to ensure that this year, four means four.
Let’s say it again: four means four.