KCEA President Questions Budget

Knox County Education Association President Lauren Hopson is questioning a proposed 2017-18 budget that she says doesn’t live up to promises made.

The Knoxville News Sentinel reports:

The president of the local teacher’s union on Monday criticized Knox County School’s proposed budget for offering teacher raises below the-agreed-upon goal of 4 percent despite an estimated $18 million revenue increase.

Hopson said of the framing of the budget decision:

“The choice should never be between a raise for certified staff and a raise for classified staff,” said Lauren Hopson, head of the Knox County Education Association. “Knox County Schools needs to prioritize their budget so that the memorandum of understanding (with the union) can be honored and our classified staff can be given a raise to show that they are an invaluable part of our school system as well.”

The budget issue will be before the Knox County School Board for a vote tonight, and Hopson plans to bring her concerns directly to the board.

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


 

Mike Stein on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights

Coffee County teacher Mike Stein offers his thoughts on the Teachers’ Bill of Rights (SB14/HB1074) being sponsored at the General Assembly by Mark Green of Clarksville and Jay Reedy of Erin.

Here’s some of what he has to say:

In my view, the most impactful elements of the Teachers’ Bill of Rights are the last four items. Teachers have been saying for decades that we shouldn’t be expected to purchase our own school supplies. No other profession does that. Additionally, it makes much-needed changes to the evaluation system. It is difficult, if not impossible, to argue against the notion that we should be evaluated by other educators with the same expertise. While good teaching is good teaching, there are content-specific strategies that only experts in that subject would truly be able to appreciate fully. Both the Coffee County Education Association and the Tennessee Education Association support this bill.

And here are those four items he references:

This bill further provides that an educator is not: (1) Required to spend the educator’s personal money to appropriately equip a classroom; (2) Evaluated by professionals, under the teacher evaluation advisory committee, without the same subject matter expertise as the educator; (3) Evaluated based on the performance of students whom the educator has never taught; or (4) Relocated to a different school based solely on test scores from state mandated assessments.

The legislation would change the teacher evaluation system by effectively eliminating TVAAS scores from the evaluations of teachers in non-tested subjects — those scores may be replaced by portfolios, an idea the state has rolled out but not funded. Additionally, identifying subject matter specific evaluators could prove difficult, but would likely provide stronger, more relevant evaluations.

Currently, teachers aren’t required to spend their own money on classrooms, but many teachers do because schools too often lack the resources to meet the needs of students. It’s good to see Senator Green and Rep. Reedy drawing attention to the important issue of classroom resources.

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


 

2017 Education Issues Outlook

The 2017 session of the Tennessee General Assembly is underway and as always, education is a hot issue on the Hill. The bill filing deadline was yesterday and some familiar issues are back again. Namely, vouchers.

While the voucher fight may be the biggest education showdown this session, issues ranging from the scope of the state’s Achievement School District to a “Teacher Bill of Rights” and of course, funding, will also be debated.

Here’s a rundown of the big issues for this session:

Vouchers

Senator Brian Kelsey of Shelby County is pushing a voucher plan that is essentially a pilot program that would apply to Shelby County only. Voucher advocates have failed to gain passage of a plan with statewide application over the past four legislative sessions. The idea behind this plan seems to be to limit it to Shelby County in order to mitigate opposition from lawmakers who fear a voucher scheme may negatively impact school systems in their own districts.

In addition to Kelsey’s limited plan, Rep. Bill Dunn of Knoxville is back with the “traditional” voucher bill he’s run year after year. This plan has essentially the same requirements as Kelsey’s plan, but would be available to students across the state. It’s not clear which of these two plans has the best chance of passage. I suspect both will be set in motion, and as time wears on, one will emerge as most likely to be adopted. Voucher advocates are likely emboldened by the election of Donald Trump and the subsequent appointment of Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education.

Of course, Tennessee already has one type of voucher. The legislature adopted an Individual Education Account voucher program designed for students with special needs back in 2015. That proposal goes into effect this year. Chalkbeat reported that only 130 families applied. That’s pretty low, considering some 20,000 students meet the eligibility requirements.

Achievement School District

Two years ago, I wrote about how the ASD’s mission creep was hampering any potential effectiveness it might have. Now, it seems that even the ASD’s leadership agrees that pulling back and refocusing is necessary. Grace Tatter of Chalkbeat reports:

Lawmakers are considering a bill that would stop the Achievement School District from starting new charter schools, rather than just overhauling existing schools that are struggling.

Rep. David Hawk of Greeneville filed the bill last week at the request of the State Department of Education. In addition to curbing new starts, the legislation proposes changing the rules so that the ASD no longer can take over struggling schools unilaterally. Instead, the state would give local districts time and resources to turn around their lowest-performing schools.

Tatter notes that the Tennessee Department of Education and the ASD’s leadership support the bill. This is likely welcome news for those who have raised concerns over the ASD’s performance and approach.

Teacher Bill of Rights

Senator Mark Green of Clarksville has introduced what he’s calling a “Teacher Bill of Rights.” The bill outlines what Green sees as some basic protections for teachers. If adopted, his proposal would have the effect of changing the way the state evaluates teachers. Among the rights enumerated in SB 14 is the right to “be evaluated by a professional with the same subject matter expertise,” and the right to “be evaluated based only on students a teacher has taught.”

While both of these may seem like common sense, they are not current practice in Tennessee’s public schools. Many teachers are evaluated by building leaders and others who lack subject matter expertise. Further, teachers who do not generate their own student growth scores (those who don’t teach in tested subjects) are evaluated in part on school-wide scores or other metrics of student performance — meaning they receive an evaluation score based in part on students they’ve never taught.

Green’s Teacher Bill of Rights will almost certainly face opposition from the Department of Education.

Funding

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Governor Bill Haslam is proposing spending over $200 million in new money on schools. Around $60 million of that is for BEP growth. $100 million will provide districts with funds for teacher compensation. And, there’s $22 million for English Language Learners as well as $15 million for Career and Technical Education.

These are all good things and important investments for our schools. In fact, the BEP Review Committee — the state body tasked with reviewing school funding and evaluating the formula’s effectiveness, identified teacher pay and funds for English Language Learners as top priorities.

Here’s the full list of priorities identified by the BEP Review Committee for this year:

1. Sustained commitment to teacher compensation

2. English Language Learner funding (to bring ratios closer to the level called for in the BEP Enhancement Act of 2016)

3. Funding the number of guidance counselors at a level closer to national best practices

4. Funding Response to Instruction and Intervention positions

5. Sustained technology funding

Haslam’s budget proposal makes an effort to address 1 and 2. However, there’s no additional money to improve the guidance counselor ratio, no funds for the unfunded mandate of RTI and no additional money for technology.

Oh, and then there’s the persistent under-funding of schools as a result of a BEP formula that no longer works. In fact, the Comptroller’s Office says we are under-funding schools by at least $400 million. Haslam’s budget does not address the funding ratios that create this inadequacy.

Then, of course, improving the ratios does nothing on its own to achieve a long-standing BEP Review Committee goal: Providing districts with teacher compensation that more closely matches the actual cost of hiring a teacher. The projected cost of this, according to the 2014 BEP Review Committee Report, is around $500 million.

The good news is we have the money available to begin addressing the ratio deficit. The General Assembly could redirect some of our state’s surplus dollars toward improving the BEP ratios and start eating into that $400 million deficit. Doing so would return money to the taxpayers by way of investment in their local schools. It would also help County Commissions avoid raising property taxes.

Stay tuned as the bills start moving next week and beyond. It’s expected this session could last into May, and education will be a flash point throughout over these next few months.

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


 

Why Doesn’t 4=4?

For the past two years, Gov. Haslam has proposed and the General Assembly has adopted education budgets that included four percent increases in state appropriations for the instructional salary component of the BEP. That means Tennessee teachers have received four percent raises in back-to-back years, right?

Wrong.

Instead, some teachers have seen no raise at all or very small salary increases while the average has hovered in the 2-2.5% range.

What’s going on?

I’ve attempted to explain this phenomenon here and here.

Those posts point to the State Board’s insistence on flexibility for local districts as a part of the equation. And, to be sure, the State Board’s refusal to adjust the state salary schedule by the same percentage as the salary appropriation does play a role.

But, there’s a bigger problem. The state is simply under-funding teaching positions through the BEP formula. I wrote about the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) study and pointed to a $400 million difference between the BEP-generated allocation of teaching positions and the actual number of teachers hired by local school systems. Since then, OREA has been informed by the Department of Education that some of those positions not funded by the state are entirely funded by federal dollars. The revised estimate, then, is that school districts in Tennessee are paying for between 12-18% of their teaching positions exclusively through local funds.

Yes, local districts are hiring between 12-18% more teachers than the state pays for through the BEP.  Imagine your school district with a teaching force reduced by an average of 15%. Could your schools function? Would students be well-served?

Since districts are responsible for 100% of the cost of any teacher hired beyond the BEP, they must make their available salary dollars stretch. So, when a district receives a 4% increase in salary funds, those funds are spread out among both the BEP-generated teachers and another 15% of teachers the district requires but which are not paid for at all by the state.

Stretching those dollars turns a 4% salary component increase into a raise of around 2% for most teachers. Some districts use 100% of their BEP salary allocation increase to hire new teachers, which means existing staff get no raise at all.

Fortunately, Governor Haslam just held budget hearings and Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen presented her proposed budget, including a recommended increase in the BEP. In fact, the issue of salary is discussed during the hearing when Finance Commissioner Larry Martin brings up BEP components. You can watch that discussion at around the 38 minute mark here. 

Unfortunately, McQueen is not proposing a solution to the BEP funding problem.

Grace Tatter reports:

Earlier in the day, Commissioner Candice McQueen asked for a 1.4 percent increase in education spending next school year, mostly to accommodate a projected 1.8 percent increase in student enrollment statewide, a driving component of the state’s school spending formula, called the Basic Education Program, or BEP.

In addition to wanting $58 million more for the BEP, McQueen asked for an extra $4.4 million for the state’s Read to Be Ready literacy initiative; $379,000 more on educator preparation programs; and $2 million to train teachers on new standards for science and the fine arts. She also is requesting $28.9 million for rural education programs.

It’s nice to see normal growth funded through the BEP, but districts will need a lot more than their share of $58 million to make up for the teacher funding shortfall under the current formula.

An increase of teaching positions of 15% through the BEP formula would cost $367 million. That’s without a salary increase. Of course, our state ended last year with a surplus of over $900 million and is starting this year with revenue coming in well over projections.

Here’s what Governor Haslam has to say about that:

Haslam said the increase would be substantial, although not as much as the state could afford with its considerable surplus. That’s because any pay hike must be sustainable in lean years, he said.

“We will continue to invest in education whenever we can, but we would like to be thoughtful,” Haslam told reporters after hearings on the budget for 2017-18.

If Haslam and the DOE were actually being thoughtful, they’d propose adjusting the BEP formula in a way that provides personnel funding that matches school system needs. Instead, teachers can likely expect that whatever raise is proposed and adopted will be cut in half as a result of the inadequacy of the BEP.

As for those “lean years,” we’re now in our third consecutive year of very significant surpluses. Investing 50% or so of last year’s surplus could beef up the BEP formula and still leave half a billion for other priorities or the rainy day fund.

The BEP is broken. A state experiencing significant budget surpluses should be able to fix it. What’s missing?

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


 

Doing the Right Thing

Shelby County’s Director of Schools Dorsey Hopson announced that all teachers will receive a three percent raise this year, not just those who meet certain scores on the state’s flawed value-added evaluation system.

More from Chalkbeat:

Hopson told the district’s educators in an email Thursday that they’ll see the raise reflected in their Nov. 18 paychecks. The pay hikes will be retroactive and will also go to librarians, counselors, instructional facilitators, coaches, social workers, physical/speech therapists and psychologists.

The decision came after Hopson learned that the district won’t receive the state’s testing data until December.

The decision by Hopson came about as a result of last year’s TNReady debacle. It also came in the same week that Knox County’s School Board asked the state for a waiver from included this year’s TNReady test results in student grades and teacher evaluations.

Hopson made the right decision — it is unfair to ask teachers to wait to receive pay raises because of the state’s mistakes with TNReady. It’s also unfair to use data from last year’s mess of a test administration to evaluate teachers. While I’ve expressed doubts about the usefulness of value-added data in evaluating teachers, even those who haven’t should acknowledge that using data from last year (or this year) is problematic.

Shelby County educators will all see a raise this year. The next question: Will the school board there join Knox County in requesting a waiver from using test data for students and teachers this year?

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


 

Tennessee Ranks 33rd in Climate for Teachers

WalletHub is out with a ranking of Best and Worst states for teachers based on factors including salary and work environment. Here’s how they describe their methodology:

In order to identify the teacher-friendliest states in the U.S., WalletHub’s analysts compared the 50 states and the District of Columbia across two key dimensions, including “Job Opportunity & Competition” and “Academic & Work Environment.” Because competitive salaries and job security are integral to a well-balanced personal and professional life, we assigned a heavier weight to the first category.

Tennessee received an overall rating of 33, about in the middle for neighboring states. Our neighbors in Virginia and Kentucky come in at 6th and 15th, respectively, while Mississippi is ranked 47th.

See the full map:

 

Source: WalletHub

WalletHub notes:

Most educators don’t pursue their profession for the money. Despite their critical role in shaping young minds, teachers across the U.S. are shortchanged every year. In fact, education jobs are some of the lowest-paying occupations that require a bachelor’s degree, and their salaries consistently fail to keep up with inflation.

Tennessee should aspire to be among the best in our region, and we have the resources to make it happen — including a $925 million surplus for the recently-ended fiscal year. Using this surplus to close the teacher wage gap would improve our rankings and improve the quality of life for teachers. Additionally, the state would do well to heed the priorities outlined by the BEP Review Committee.

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


 

Wilson County Teachers to See Raises

The Wilson County Commission recently passed a budget that includes funds to build a new middle school and provides a pay raise for educators.

From the Tennessee Education Association:

Thanks to the efforts of the Wilson County Education Association, the Wilson County Commission passed a pay raise for educators and approved funds to build a new Gladeville middle school.

The approved raises include $1,000 dollars to teachers with one to five years of experience, $2,000 to teachers with six to 10, and $3,000 for teachers with 11+ years. The district is required to use the allocated money exclusively for teacher raises.

WCEA President Melissa Lynn and other WCEA members lead the push to get the increase passed, securing raises and construction funds to ease serious over-crowding issues.

WCEA President Lynn was given an opportunity to address the commission to make the case for teacher raises and new schools. Her remarks are included below.

Good evening. My name is Melissa Lynn. I am a mother, public school teacher and life-long resident of Wilson County.

Having raised a child on a teacher’s salary, I know how important every penny is to a family’s budget. So asking for a property tax increase is not something I take lightly. But as an educator, I know first-hand how critical this increase is for our students, our schools and the future of this community we all love. We simply cannot afford to not do this.

Wilson County is growing at an incredible rate. New homes and businesses are being built every day. If we want our community to continue to be a desirable place for families and businesses, we must have a strong system of public schools. A strong local economy is built upon a foundation of strong public schools – which requires investing our resources in updating facilities and attracting the best educators for our students.

Wilson County Schools are bursting at the seams with over-crowded classrooms and hallways. In order to keep class sizes down and keep our students safe on campus, we really need to build more schools. To date, the growth of our school system has not kept up with the growth of our community.

The second main concern in addition to over-crowded schools, is the county’s ability to attract and retain the most qualified and committed educators. It is our responsibility to our children to ensure every student has an excellent teacher in their classroom. We will not attract the best and brightest educators without competitive pay and benefits. While the county does a good job of providing quality benefits to those teachers who take advantage of the health insurance offered, a teacher cannot put food on her table or pay her bills with health insurance premiums.

Wilson County faces some stiff competition from other districts in Middle Tennessee who offer better salary and benefits packages AND better facilities for educators. Teachers who live here in Wilson County, and would prefer to work here, are choosing to work in other districts because of these things. We need to bring these educators home, and attract the best of the best from other districts, by offering a salary and benefits package that enables educators to provide for their families.

I know you share my belief that our kids deserve the very best. It is up to us now to step up and invest in the future success of our children and our community. That is why I am here tonight to ask that you please vote “YES” to approve the budget and proposed property tax increase before you.

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


 

 

Filling the Wage Gap

Yesterday, I reported on the national wage gap between teachers and other professionals and dug into the data to look at the impact on Tennessee.

It’s pretty disappointing nationally, but the Tennessee numbers are especially disturbing: Below the national average and even about 3 points below the Southeastern average.

We can do better.

Here’s the good news: The Department of Finance and Administration recently released revenue numbers for the fiscal year that ended June 30th. Turns out, we have LOTS of extra money.

Specifically:

Year-to-date revenues for 12 months were $925.0 million more than the budgeted estimate. The general fund recorded revenues in the amount of $852.4 million more than the budgeted estimate, and the four other funds $72.6 million more than the budgeted estimate.

Yes, that’s right, $925 million MORE than we planned on having.

To fully close the wage gap for teachers, we’d need around $500 million which would result in a raise of about $10,000 per teacher.

With this available surplus, Tennessee could become the first state in the nation to close the wage gap completely. And we could do it with $425 million to spare. That’s pretty conservative. Oh, and we could do it without raising a single tax.

An even more conservative approach would be to phase-in wage gap closure over two to three years to ensure revenue is keeping up. That could mean an average raise of about $5000 per teacher in the first year and slightly smaller, but significant raises in successive years.

A move like that would grab national attention. Suddenly, our neighbors in Kentucky and Alabama could no longer say they offer a better value proposition for their teachers.

We would not only deliver on becoming the fastest-improving state in teacher salaries, we’d be doing it in a fiscally responsible, conservative way.

If you’re in college and want to be a teacher, wouldn’t you want to go where you could make just as much as your professional peers? In Tennessee, you’re making 30% less at current numbers. But the budget situation in our state means it doesn’t have to be that way.

The first state in the nation to close the teacher wage gap. It could be Tennessee.

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


 

 

Teachers! Deep Discounts! 30% off in TN!

A new study of teacher pay relative to pay received by other, similarly-educated workers reveals a growing gap. Not surprisingly, teachers are on the losing end, earning roughly 23% less than their peers in other professions. Here in Tennessee, teachers earn 29.3% less than similarly-prepared professionals.

Tennessee’s wage gap for teachers is among the worst in the Southeast, in fact. The average of 11 southern states is a 26.5% gap, leaving Tennessee nearly three points behind.

Here are the numbers (showing what percentage teachers earn relative to their peers) for states in our region:

Louisiana                              80.5%

South Carolina                    79.2%

Kentucky                              78.8%

Mississippi                           74.8%

Arkansas                               74.8%

Florida                                   74.6%

West Virginia                       74.6%

Alabama                                71.8%

Tennessee                             70.7%

Georgia                                  69.3%

Virginia                                  66.9%

North Carolina                     65.4%

The study also addresses what it calls the “benefits-bias.” This is the fact that teachers and other public employees tend to receive more generous healthcare and retirement benefits than their private sector peers. Currently, that number stands at around 6% nationally in favor of teachers. Tennessee doesn’t have the most generous pension or benefits plan, but it’s likely similar to states in our region. Even if you assume the full 6% for Tennessee teachers, though, our teachers are still paid 23.3% less than their professional peers.

The weighted average teacher salary in Tennessee according to the BEP Review Committee is just under $44,000 a year. To fully close the gap, Tennessee teachers would need an average raise of about $10,000 a year.

While the state legislature has passed four percent BEP salary increases in the past two legislative sessions, those funds don’t always make it into teachers’ paychecks due to the Huffman pay plan and action by the State Board of Education.  

The bottom line: Teacher pay matters. It may not be the only factor impacting who chooses teaching and who stays in teaching, but it certainly is an important one. This report notes the disturbing fact that the pay gap between teaching and other professions is widening. That makes it difficult to encourage college students to consider teaching and it also makes it challenging to keep experienced teachers in the profession. A gap of 5-10% can be offset by the benefits earned by teachers. A nearly 30% gap such as exists in Tennessee is unacceptable. Closing this gap will require a sustained commitment to fund teacher pay at the state level. Alternatively, the value proposition for teachers in Tennessee will continue to lag behind that of our neighboring states, not to mention other professionals.

For now, school systems and the state can continue to hire teachers at deep discounts — nearly 30% off! While that may seem like a good deal, it’s one that will exacerbate teacher shortages and shortchange our students. We must do better.

 

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


 

 

 

 

Teacher Shortage Hits Tennessee Cities

Chalkbeat reports on the state’s big cities missing a significant number of teachers at the start of the school year:

About 100 Shelby County Schools classrooms still lack full-time teachers, Superintendent Dorsey Hopson said Monday, the first day of school, after a tour at Bruce Elementary.

And the problem wasn’t limited to Shelby County:

And it’s not the only district with vacancies left open. Metro Nashville, a slightly smaller district, lists nearly 80 open teaching jobs, and the third-largest district in the state, Knox County, needs more than forty. Across the board, districts are most hurting for special education teachers, though there are vacancies in nearly every subject.

The shortage noted in the big districts tracks information reported at TNEdReport back in 2014:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

While there are many reasons for the shortfall, it’s worth noting that the first days of school set the tone for the entire year. So much so that incoming MNPS Director of Schools Shawn Joseph has said it’s critical that every classroom have a full-time teacher on day one.

UPDATE: MNPS reports that the actual number of unfilled vacancies on Day 1 was 34.5, a better number than they’ve had in recent years.

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