Money for Roads but Not Schools?

House Speaker Beth Harwell is talking about using the state’s revenue surplus to fund road projects — but has made no mention yet of how the General Assembly might begin to fund the $500 million+ being sought by school systems across the state in a lawsuit over funding adequacy.

According to the Tennessean:

The Nashville Republican noted that state tax collections continue to exceed expectations, estimating the state could receive $400 million more than anticipated. With talk of a potential gas tax increase floating around the state, Harwell said that extra one-time tax money should fund some of the many shelved state road projects.

Certainly, investing in infrastructure is wise. But, so is investing in schools.

And since the state’s BEP Review Committee says Tennessee is about $500 million behind in funding its schools and since school systems are suing demanding adequacy in light of unfunded mandates like Response to Intervention (RTI2), it would make sense to use some of the new money to begin investing in schools.

Of course, Harwell’s #2, Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, has already expressed his displeasure with school systems seeking proper funding.

The point is this: There’s money to fund some infrastructure projects AND to begin investing in schools — and it can be started without a tax increase.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport


 

 

Since You Asked

 

In a recent article outlining a list of priorities for the next Director of MNPS, Board Member Will Pinkston said:

We also need a top-to-bottom review of our teacher compensation system to understand how we stack up against competing and similarly situated U.S. school systems, such as Atlanta, Austin, Charlotte, Denver and Louisville.

Here is some information on how the MNPS pay scale compares to pay scales in the cities Pinkston mentions. I used the salary paid to a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and looked at starting salary, salary at year 10, salary at year 20, and the top salary paid on the current schedule.

Here’s what it looks like:

Start                    10                          20                      TOP

MNPS                     $42,082                $44,536                 $54,800              $55,757

Louisville              $41,756                $53,759                 $69,514                $70,636

Charlotte               $37,946               $46,008                $53,954                $58,525

Austin                     $46,401               $48,837                $55,477                 $70,751

Atlanta                   $44,312               $54,167                 $62,075                 $66,467

Denver                   $38,765              $47,136                 $53,838*

*Denver has a teacher compensation system known as ProComp and the highest step is 13. Teachers in Denver earn the base pay indicated plus are eligible for incentives and base pay increases based on professional development, advanced degrees, and measures of student outcomes.

Here are a few takeaways from the raw information:

1) Starting pay in MNPS is on par with the cities Pinkston identifies as similar to/competitive with Nashville.

2) Long-term pay increases in MNPS don’t keep pace with those in other, similar districts. Taking Denver as an example, a teacher who received NO ProComp incentives and maintained only a bachelor’s degree would make at Step 13 very close to what an MNPS teacher with similar education makes at Step 20. In all other cities examined, the top step is higher (from $3000 to $15,000) than it is in MNPS.

3) Just three hours north of Nashville in a city with similar demographics and cost of living, a teacher can earn significantly better pay over a career. While a teacher in Louisville starts out making slightly less than a new Nashville teacher, by year 10, the Louisville teacher makes $9,000 more than her Nashville counterpart and by year 20, that difference stretches to $15,000. The lifetime earnings of a teacher in Louisville significantly outpace those of a teacher in Nashville.

4) Nashville’s teacher pay is higher than most of the surrounding districts — making it a competitive choice for teachers seeking to teach in middle Tennessee. However, for Nashville to become a destination for teachers wanting to build a career (or continue one) in urban education, Nashville may need to do more to improve its overall compensation package.

5) This analysis is a starting point — it’s raw data from district websites about base compensation plans. It does not take into account relative cost of living (except as noted in the comparison with Louisville) and other factors that may make teaching in Nashville an attractive proposition.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

When 4=2

In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

First, nearly every district in the state hires more teachers than the BEP formula generates. This is because students don’t arrive in neatly packaged groups of 20 or 25, and because districts choose to enhance their curriculum with AP courses, foreign language, physical education, and other programs. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Will It Ever Happen?

Just over two years ago, I proposed an education agenda that was an alternative to the education reform status quo. I lamented the focus on vouchers and teacher merit pay and called for an investment in and support for proven initiatives that would move Tennessee schools forward.

A lot has happened in Tennessee since then. The legislature even passed a very limited voucher scheme this year. The primary voucher vehicle, however, was defeated for the third consecutive legislative session.

But, what’s happening on issues like Pre-K and teacher mentoring? Well, not much. So, here’s a look at the agenda items I put forward two years ago and any action that’s happened on those items:

We should expand the Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017. 

Despite Governor Haslam saying that Pre-K expansion might be a good thing, there’s been no legislative push to expand the state’s voluntary Pre-K program. The state did pursue (and win) federal funds to allow Memphis and Nashville to expand their Pre-K programs.  However, State Representative Glen Casada did sponsor legislation (HB159) that would have prevented the disbursement of those federal funds since the application did not include all counties in the state. That legislation is on hold in the House Local Government Subcommittee. Between Casada’s bill and efforts by Rep. Bill Dunn, there is serious concern that Pre-K funding could be in jeopardy in 2016. Certainly, that means Tennessee won’t be talking about expanding its Pre-K program to serve all at-risk four-year-olds by 2017.

Tennessee policy-makers should build and launch a new BEP formula in time for the 2015-16 academic year.

This has not been done. Governor Haslam has appointed a task force to study the BEP and that group has yet to issue a final recommendation. In the meantime, a lawsuit claiming the BEP is inadequate was filed this year. In terms of both equity and adequacy, it appears the BEP is broken.

There’s not a new BEP formula for 2015-16 and it remains to be seen if the Task Force appointed by Haslam will make proposals for meaningful improvements by the 2016 legislative session.

Tennessee policy-makers should build a new teacher mentoring program and ensure every new teacher has a trained mentor by the 2016-17 academic year.

Nothing has been done on this. At all.

Tennessee policy-makers should raise the starting pay for all teachers to $40,000 and adjust the pay scale to improve overall compensation by the 2015-16 academic year.

Governor Haslam did promise a teacher pay raise in 2014, only to back down when the revenue picture got a little less rosy. This year, the Governor’s budget includes $96 million in new money for teacher pay, but that doesn’t mean a 4% raise for all teachers. Tennessee’s starting teacher pay is nowhere near an average of $40,000, though State Rep. Jason Powell of Nashville offered a proposal to increase the BEP allocation for teacher pay by $10,000, at a cost of $500 million a year. Powell’s proposal would have brought Tennessee close to the goal of a significantly improved starting pay number for our state’s teachers. But, the price tag was deemed too high and the effort was delayed.

There is much to do for Tennessee schools — efforts that would improve the classroom environment, provide support for teachers, add resources to students, and relieve the tax burden on local governments. So far, these initiatives have either not been discussed or have been put off in favor of education reform fads. There is another legislative session in 2016, of course. And there’s always hope that either a lawsuit or elections or both will cause the General Assembly to re-focus its attention on the investments our state needs to move forward.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Trust Us and Stop Complaining

That seems to be the over-arching message from the Tennessee General Assembly as they continue to advance legislation designed to prevent those who disagree with the current “ed reform” agenda from having a strong voice.

The latest example is the so-called Educator Protection Act (HB645/SB604) designed to offer liability insurance to teachers at state expense. But, as Jon Alfuth notes over at Bluff City Ed, it seems the legislation has other implications:

 I can only speculate, but this looks like a quiet effort to continue the drive towards making the TEA irrelevant in the state. Pass this and one of the big draws of union membership, legal protection in the case of a law suit, suddenly becomes less important. The TEA does contend that teachers would still have to rely on them for legal fees according to the link cited above, but teachers wouldn’t need the liability coverage under the TEA any more as the state would provide it. It just removes one additional reason for teachers to join the union.

Weakening TEA and also Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) weakens the organized opposition to much of what passes as education reform – evaluations based on suspect statistical methods and vouchers, as just two examples.

This effort comes after just last week, an amendment was added to the state budget that was designed to limit local school boards in their efforts to seek more funding from the state.

The General Assembly seems to be sending a clear message to those who disagree with prevailing education policy: Trust us, and stop complaining.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

A TN BAT Asks a Key Question

Tennessee teacher and Badass Teachers Association (BAT) member Larry Proffitt asks an important question of his colleagues in a recent post on the BAT blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

How do we correct our path and stave off the test-crazed push for perfect scores? We get involved. One of the most effective teaching strategies is modeling, so we model. We talk to our board members, commission members and legislators. We sit and do not complain, but we state problems and offer solutions. It is what educators do. It is what we must do. “I just want to teach!” Yes, I’ve heard it more than I can count. I’m sure students, if asked, would say they just want to learn and be children. They, my friends, are depending on us. Our students deserve the opportunity to learn all they can and develop as whole students. Itinerant subjects are being lost to improvement and prep. Is it truly improvement if they are losing the arts and social interaction that helps them learn about co-existing with those that are different than themselves. Every aspect of our schools, good schools, are important. We cannot afford to sacrifice the next generation. Does it mean there does not need to be change? Of course not, but it doesn’t mean educators and students are failing. It means society has changed and requires those in charge to supply resources to deal with those changes. We must insure students are the focus.
Read all Larry has to say here.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

 

TN BATs Talk Haslam

The leadership of Tennessee BATs (Badass Teachers Association) released this statement in response to Governor Bill Haslam’s remarks on education on Monday:

All educators are pleased with the governor’s proposal if it puts aside the promotion of pay for performance based on test data. Student populations change and test data changes. The TVAAS system is based upon a formula that no one at the Tennessee Department of Education has explained satisfactorily thus far. A straight across the board raise would be a welcomed move by the governor, but only as a first step. Many education policies are in need of review by experienced educators. Sit with a selection of teachers that are not hand-picked and not in short-notice secret meetings. Let’s make real progress for the sake of our students. Together it can be done when both sides genuinely listen.

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

Dear Jim

Tomorrow, Knox County’s Director of Schools, Jim McIntyre, will testify before the Senate HELP Committee as part of ESEA reauthorization hearings being held by Sen. Lamar Alexander.

Ahead of his testimony, 9th District Knox County School Board member Amber Rountree sent McIntyre her thoughts on what he should say. This is her letter:

Dear Jim:
Thank you for the opportunity to give input on your upcoming testimony regarding the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind (“NCLB”).

As you stated in your email to the Board, you have been bestowed an honor to represent our students, our staff and the great state of Tennessee. I know you will share the wonderful innovation happening in Knox County Schools, but I implore you to provide a realistic picture of how NCLB (and its waiver) has impacted our schools.  I hope as you prepare your testimony you find courage to speak hard truths about the current state of our schools, including the following points:

More accountability≠better education. While we need a way to measure student progress, we must discontinue high-stakes testing that is not developmentally appropriate.  Punishing students, teachers and schools for results of these tests is simply unethical, especially while companies like Pearson profit from this punishment.

Restore local control.  Top down mandates from the federal government via NCLB have not led to a better outcome for students.  In fact, in our own district the achievement gap is widening.  Return the decision making to the hands of our state and local boards of education, along with controls to ensure punitive high-stakes testing does not continue.

Rethink the “Teacher Incentive Fund.”  Would you pay a firefighter based on the number of fires they successfully extinguished? Merit pay does not directly correlate to increased student performance.  A wiser choice would be to use the funding for smaller teacher-student ratios, which directly improve student outcomes.

Public dollars, public schools.  Vouchers and charters are a path to privatize public education.  When President Johnson signed ESEA into law, his intent was to help public schools succeed, not see those dollars funneled into private ventures which are not held to the same rigorous standards as public schools.
I concur with President Johnson’s remark that “there is no higher ground than a schoolroom or a more hopeful place than a classroom.”  The brightness of hope for our students and teachers has dimmed under the oppressive mandates of NCLB.  You’ve been given a gift to help restore that hope; my wish is that you use it wisely.
Yours in education,
Amber Rountree,  District 9 Representative

 

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

The Importance of Mentors

Bethany Bowman, Director of Professional Development at Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET), writes on the importance of mentoring.

January has been proclaimed National Mentoring Month. Mentoring can strengthen families, schools, businesses and communities.

Despite the obvious benefits of mentoring throughout a career, the type of guidance or skills required will likely change over time. For example, at the beginning of a career, a more job-specific mentor may be appropriate. Longtime employees also might benefit from what Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, called “reverse mentoring” – partnering with someone from a younger generation to share expertise, update skills, and gain a different perspective.

When I was hired for my first teaching job several days before school actually started, I was supposed to be part of a team. However, the team I was assigned consisted of veteran teachers who didn’t need or want help from anyone. They were also not very helpful to a rookie educator. So basically I was going at it alone facing all the challenges that most first year teachers face without support.

In my second year teaching, I moved to a new school where the teams actually planned and worked together as a team. I was given plenty of sage advice and had a successful career at that school. Working together, we helped each other grow as colleagues and teachers.

Today it appears that many school districts are paying attention and seeing the positive results that come from teachers mentoring each other and planning as a team. However, with the many changes in technology, it is not just the young new teachers that need mentoring. There are plenty of experienced teachers that need assistance with the new technology that is be thrust their way. Teachers are expected to be the expert on all aspects in their field of study.

Everyone’s skill levels are different and varied. You may be an expert in classroom management and can provide advice to struggling teachers. I may have a different set of skills that I can share expertise with you. We all need to mentor each other. This will significantly improve not only our own lives, but more importantly, teachers mentoring other teachers will impact the lives of the children they serve.

Professional Educators of Tennessee encourages all people to accept the challenges and rewards of mentoring someone knowing that both the mentor and mentee will experience benefits that will last each of you a lifetime. Together we can all reach our goals.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

PET Looks to 2015

A response to Governor Haslam’s recently announced teacher support initiatives by JC Bowman and Samantha Bates of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET)

 

The announcement by Governor Bill Haslam addressing testing, evaluations, local control and teacher input was a much needed statement, as Tennessee is heading into the 2015 legislative session. Keeping in mind that each branch of government has a distinct and separate role, it is appropriate for Governor Haslam to identify changing priorities. As always, the key is in implementation of policies. Many policies sound good. They simply have to be executed correctly.

It is always good to step back and put some political philosophy behind the policy. However, the real message educators need to hear from elected leaders is that they are trusted. We need to start a fresh conversation on evaluating how we assess our educators, which may mean a change in the way we measure engagement.

When did test results became the be-all and end-all of our education experience? Is standardized testing so reliable that it has ended the search for something better to determine the quality of our education experience? And while numbers may help us understand our world, we recognize that they do not tell us the entire story.

Most local school districts understand that ability of their instructional personnel is the only real differentiator between them and other local districts. Therefore, it is imperative that we start treating our educators like one of our most important assets. And it is only common sense that one of the key items policymakers need to address in 2015 will be teacher salaries.

However, educators do not enter this field of public education for the income; they are there for the outcomes. If the perception within Tennessee is that teaching is not a celebrated profession, we certainly will not get the young talented people to pursue a career in public education as a profession.

We have steadfastly maintained that requiring school districts to simultaneously implement new standards, new teacher evaluations and perhaps a new curriculum, as well as new testing demands, will continue to place enormous pressure at the local level. More information and feedback on state assessments to help teachers improve student achievement is a welcome addition to the discussion. The use and/or overuse of testing remain a conversation worthy of public debate.

Tennessee will need to continue allocate resources devoted to the transition of standards. As we have argued, we believe it is time to move beyond the Common Core debate. We need to continuously build state specific standards that are challenging and meet the needs of Tennesseans. This needs to be done with legislative input and with the involvement of Tennessee educators.

The key item we took away from Governor Haslam’s latest proposal is his willingness to hear teacher concerns. It has taken us a long time to get to that point. However, it was a welcome relief to many educators, as we are now positioned to reset the dialogue. The area of improved teacher communication and collaboration has long been needed. We hope a new commissioner of education will truly embrace this concept.

If the right people are brought together for the right purpose, we believe anything is possible for Tennessee children and those who choose to educate our students. Dreaming big should not be just for the children in our classrooms, it should be for the stakeholders and policymakers in our state as well.

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport