The Nashville School Budget

So, Nashville is now Tennessee’s largest city. In fact, it is one of the fastest-growing cities in America. Nashville is hotter than the Hot Chicken the city is known for. It’s the “It City.”

Of course, that means teachers in Nashville are earning top dollar to live in this highly desirable, rapidly growing urban mecca, right? Nope. In fact, Nashville teachers earn significantly less than their counterparts in similar cities. The Nashville School Board and Metro Council have known this for YEARS now and done nothing about it. At all. It’s not like the MNPS School Board was consistently proposing significant raises for Nashville teachers. They weren’t. They haven’t been. They’ve seen (and ignored) the data since at least 2015.

In fact, I noted in 2017:

Teachers in Nashville start at $42,100 with a bachelor’s degree. In Louisville, they start at $42,700. So, starting pay in Nashville is competitive. But, let’s look longer term. That same teacher after 10 years in Nashville will earn $47,000. In Louisville, it’s $54,974.

Oh, and let me note this: The salary to live comfortably in Louisville is $49,000. Teachers in Louisville hit that pay rate by year 5. A teacher in Nashville isn’t making $49,000 even after 10 years of experience. The pay scale in Nashville simply isn’t moving up quickly enough.

So, what about after 20 years? A Nashville teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 20 years experience makes $56,000. In Louisville, that teacher makes $71,000. A teacher working in Louisville with 20 years experience earns $22,000 more a year than that city’s “comfortable living” salary. In fact, they earn more than Nashville’s “comfortable” salary.

So, what’s up? Why aren’t MNPS teachers earning the salaries they deserve? Well, SEIU Local 205 offers this handy explainer relative to the Metro budget:


The job of the mayor and council is to decide what property tax rate generates enough revenue to fund the city. In both 2009 and 2017, Mayor Dean and then Mayor Barry accepted the tax rate that kept revenues neutral without debating the impact on the city budget. Both times, the Metro Council agreed. Our elected officials collectively refused to make the politically difficult decisions we need them to make as leaders of our city. They made an irresponsible choice to lower the rate, which cost our city vital revenues and disproportionately benefited developers and commercial properties. This broke the budget. In 2010, the Dean administration restructured the city debt, pushing payments into the future. Much of our budget is paying for that debt now instead of our schools and other public institutions.


Another way to think about this is that Mayor Barry proposed a $394 million/year tax cut, and the Council accepted. Technically we did not “lose” revenues because the appraisal has to be revenue neutral, but we did lose out on $1.5 billion in potential revenue over 4 years.

So, if you wonder why all those teachers are wearing “Red for Ed” or were staging “walk-ins” this year or even engaging in sick-outs in some cases, now you know. In fact, it’s amazing to me that these teachers even show up at all. Will the current Mayor and Metro Council address the glaring needs of Metro Schools OR will Nashville need to elect a new Mayor and different members of Metro Council in order to claim “It City”-level funding for schools and teachers?

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MNPS Teachers Plan Thursday March

Teachers in Nashville are planning a march to Metro Council to push for “full funding” of metro schools, including a significant pay raise for MNPS teachers.

Here’s more from a press release:

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PET on Teacher Pay

The Tennessee Comptroller recently released a report on teacher pay in Tennessee, noting that the salary funding increases approved by the legislature in recent years don’t seem to be making it into teacher paychecks. JC Bowman of Professional Educators of Tennessee offers some thoughts on this analysis.

The Basic Education Program (BEP), how Tennessee funds K-12 public schools, provides over $4.7 billion of state funding for education. The state of Tennessee invested more than $300 million dollars for teacher salaries. As Tennessee teachers knew, and the Comptroller’s Office of Research and Education Accountability (OREA) proved through recent research, most of those dollars did not actually end up in teacher pockets. It does not inspire confidence for current or future educators. This is the challenge the Tennessee General Assembly must meet in order to recruit and retain effective educators in our classrooms.

The legislative intent was to increase teacher salaries across the state. In fact, there was slightly more than 6 percent increase total in average classroom salaries in fiscal years 2016, 2017, and 2018 through the Instructional Salaries and Wages category of the Basic Education Program (BEP). OREA reports that this increase of 6.2 percent (just under $3,000), made Tennessee the third fastest-growing state in the Southeast for teacher salaries during fiscal years 2015 through 2018. However, as evidenced, nobody can be certain those dollars actually reached the pockets of educators.

Many districts used increased state salary funding to add instructional positions and staff, in addition to providing pay raises, as allowed by the state statutes concerning the BEP. It was not clear to researchers how many districts added instructional staff, as opposed to increasing salaries of existing staff. That data would have been extremely useful to policymakers. The increased local funding spent on instructional salaries is also unknown according to researchers. When districts prepare their budgets, BEP funding from the state and local matching dollars are commingled and the dollars “lose their identity” in terms of where the revenue originates.

Districts were most likely to give raises by increasing the district salary schedule, which, in most districts, sets base pay for all teachers at specified education and experience levels. Onetime bonuses and across-the-board raises outside of the salary schedule was also used by districts to increase teacher pay. The state should take more interest in the pay plans submitted by districts and work to ensure that legislative intent to increase teacher salaries occurs, versus merely adding instructional staff.

OREA did not find any indicators of noncompliance but concluded that the available financial data for districts does not permit tracking salary expenditures back to their revenue sources. District budgets do not identify what portion of expenditures are paid for with state funds versus local funds. That certainly needs to be corrected.

Most school districts employ more staff than are covered by BEP funding, the available state and local dollars earmarked for salaries must stretch over more teachers than the staff positions generated by the BEP. Yet, some of these positions were mandated by the state for Response to Instruction and Intervention, which were not funded in the BEP until recently, and then only minimally.

It is also noted in the report that several districts allude to the need to stay competitive with the benefits they offer – like health insurance – to attract and retain employees. The analysis from OREA found “that most districts pay more than the state minimum requirement of 45 percent for licensed instructional employees’ premiums, with over half of districts paying at least 75 percent of the premium cost over the time period. Eight districts covered 100 percent of the cost.”

The Comptroller’s report includes policy considerations and identifies the need by the state to develop a more complete overview and understanding of salary trends by local districts. I would add, it would be helpful for the state to understand its role in this process. We must update our K12 funding formula to reflect changing 21st century needs. As a former businessman, Governor Lee is well positioned to push for a new funding plan and formula that reflects our modern educational mission, priorities, and strategies. We must support our teachers and make sure the dollars allocated to their salaries actually reach them, as policymakers intended.

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The War on Teachers

This piece from Chalkbeat describes education policy challenges in Indiana, but it could just as easily have been written about what has been and is happening here in Tennessee.

The story is based on a survey of school superintendents in Indiana. The school leaders are asked to talk about the challenges of finding and retaining teaching talent.

Here’s some of what they had to say:


Indiana’s war on teachers is winning


“Pay teachers more and offer better benefits. Respect the profession.”


“Overworked. Little or no pay raises in the past and none expected in the future.”


“The burnout rate increases because teachers are covering higher caseloads because of the shortage. Even when provided with an annual increase, overall morale of teachers in the state is low.”


The demands on teachers due to testing accountability makes it not worth teaching — takes the love and passion out of education.


“There is absolutely no incentive to stay in teaching or for that matter to pursue a degree in education. The pay is ridiculous. The demands are excessive. Teachers don’t really teach anymore, just test and retest. All the data-driven requirements are not successful in helping a student learn. Yes, we should have some testing but the sheer amount is ridiculous. I think we should go back to letting teachers teach. Let them be the professionals they were hired to be. ”


“There is a disconnect between what the state requires and what pre-service teachers are taught.”

If any of this sounds familiar, it should. Tennessee has been facing a growing teacher shortage for years now. As early as 2014, it was noted:

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

In other words, state policymakers have been predicting a teacher shortage for a decade now and instead of adopting policies to address it, have adopted policies that in the words of some are “driving teachers crazy.”

We have a testing system that simply doesn’t work.

We offer salaries that don’t compare favorably to the private sector.

Our state’s schools are poorly resourced and the state funding formula is broken.

Now, our Governor and some legislative leaders want to divert public money to unaccountable private schools.

Ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away. Ask Nashville, a district that has seen a rise in virtual classrooms as it struggles to fill teaching positions.

It’s no wonder some teachers are considering a strike as an option to get the attention of lawmakers who so far have ignored their pleas.

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Ready for Action

A new statewide group of teachers is “ready for action,” including a strike, if necessary.

The Memphis Commercial Appeal has more:


A new group aims to unify Tennessee teachers in advocating for public education, following a blueprint that led to teacher strikes that rocked states like Arizona, Kentucky and West Virginia. 


They are following a blueprint established by teachers in states like West Virginia, Kentucky and Arizona where grassroots efforts outside of union organization resulted in massive teacher work stoppages.

The article notes the group includes current TEA local affiliate leader Tikeila Rucker of Memphis as well as former Knox County Education Association President Lauren Sorenson and Amanda Kail, a candidate for President of Metro Nashville Education Association.

While the three leaders say they aren’t necessarily planning a strike, they indicated that as the group grows, a strike may be an option.

Issues such as persistently low teacher pay, over-testing, and the diversion of public funds to private schools by way of vouchers have caused concerns among teachers.

Tennessee Teachers United plans to raise these issues with key policymakers while organizing across the state to build support among teachers.

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Tennessee Teachers Could be Next to Strike

A new organization of Tennessee teachers has formed in response to persistent underfunding of schools and over-testing of students. Chris Brooks of Labor Notes has more:

Tennessee teachers have taken a pummeling over the years.

They’re grossly underpaid and their professional autonomy has been stripped away. Their students are over-tested and their schools underfunded.

But what has been the collective response?

To lie low.

Keep their heads down.

This is especially true of the leadership in their union, the Tennessee Education Association. They’ve pursued a strategy of “it’s better to be at the table than on the menu.”

This strategy emphasizes access over confrontation. They hope that small incremental change will be possible through a combination of lobbying and writing checks to political campaigns. And since the union isn’t being adversarial, isn’t pushing too hard or too fast, they hope they won’t be a target for political retribution.

Those hopes have been misplaced.

Across the state, conditions in schools have only gotten worse. Tennessee consistently ranks near the bottom of the country in per-pupil spending. Experienced and qualified teachers are leaving the profession in droves.

Now, newly elected Governor Bill Lee is taking direct aim at public education. He just announced a state budget that doubles funding for charter schools and is pushing lawmakers to approve $25 million for vouchers. Governor Lee’s disastrous privatization agenda will further drain resources from schools that are already struggling to get by.

The lesson here is that we can’t incrementally lobby our way out of the hole we are in.

Lying low doesn’t work, but there is another way.

All across the country, teachers are supercharging the routine of lobbying and elections with a far more powerful tool: they are going out on strike.

Teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Kentucky have used collective action to transform the political landscape. They’ve decimated charter and voucher legislation, stopped further spending cuts, and pushed policies that actually benefit student outcomes: lower class sizes, more nurses and counselors, an end to toxic testing, and paying teachers adequately so school systems can retain them for more than a few years.

There is clear tangible evidence that strikes work. A new report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities found that “protests by teachers and others last year helped lead to substantial increases in school funding in Arizona, North Carolina, Oklahoma, and West Virginia.”

It didn’t matter that striking is illegal in many of these states or that the state government is dominated by anti-union Republicans.

When teachers found the courage to strike they found out that the community—and often even their boss—had their back

With so many school districts struggling to make ends meet, striking teachers found that their demands for increased state funding had the support of their local administrators. Because superintendents closed their schools during the nine-day West Virginia strike, teachers didn’t lose pay and the strike rolled on.

Parents know that issues like class size and funding matter. It’s common sense. Would you rather your child be in a classroom with twenty other students or forty? Do you want your child to be taught by a capable, qualified professional or to be endlessly drilled in preparation for a high-stakes test?

Unsurprisingly, teachers everywhere have received an outpouring of support from parents and community members when they hit the picket lines.

Teachers living with anemic unions and deteriorating conditions in their schools have created their own Facebook groups to communicate with each other and coordinate actions across school sites. Examples include West Virginia Public Employees United, KY 120 United, and Arizona Educators United.

Now there is TN Teachers United.

“This group is for any public school educator who is tired of their students’ needs being put last and is tired of their voices being ignored,” said Lauren Sorensen, a second grade teacher at Halls Elementary School in Knox County and a longtime leader in her local union. “If you are ready to organize and act, then join us.”

The group was formed following a video call organized by Labor Notes between Tennessee teacher activists and two of the rank-and-file organizers of the statewide walkouts in Arizona and West Virginia (see video below).

Tennessee teachers face the same issues and challenges as teachers in West Virginia and Arizona—and they are just as resourceful.

They just have to ask themselves: are they going to keep lying low or are they going to start fighting back?

Chris Brooks is a former organizer with the Tennessee Education Association and currently works as an organizer and staff writer for Labor Notes.

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Gold Strike

If Tennessee teachers really want to improve the state’s overall investment in schools, including in teacher compensation, they may need to walk off the job.

A new study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities indicates that in states that have seen recent teacher protests, investment in public education has improved significantly.

More from Chalkbeat:


In four states where teachers walked out of their classrooms in protest last year, education spending is up, helping to make up for deep cuts in those states in the wake of the Great Recession.


That’s according to a new analysis that suggests the walkouts and strikes made a difference in Oklahoma, Arizona, West Virginia, and North Carolina. The report from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank, found that baseline state funding jumped 19 percent in Oklahoma last year, while North Carolina and West Virginia both saw 3 percent upticks.

Tennessee’s overall investment in public education is 44th nationally and we actually spend less per pupil in inflation-adjusted dollars than we did in 2010. Additionally, the rate of pay increases for our teachers is relatively small and lags behind the national average:


Average teacher salaries in the United States improved by about 4% from the Haslam Promise until this year. Average teacher salaries in Tennessee improved by just under 2% over the same time period. So, since Bill Haslam promised teachers we’d be the fastest improving in teacher pay, we’ve actually been improving at a rate that’s half the national average. No, we’re not the slowest improving state in teacher pay, but we’re also not even improving at the average rate.

It seems unlikely this will change until policymakers are made uncomfortable. One sure way to cause discomfort is through a massive protest or job action. Tennessee teachers who are tired of the status quo may well need to take to the streets to see real change for them and for their students.

daguerreotype, circa 1852, on display as part of ‘ California Gold Rush’. The Jaunts column will pay a visit to the California Oil Museum in Santa Paula previewing the new exhibit, California Gold Rush. DIGITAL IMAGE SHOT ON 10.31.2000 (Photo by Spencer Weiner/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

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100% for Charters, 2.5% for Teachers

Tonight, Governor Bill Lee outlined his proposed budget for 2019-2020. Lee’s budget doubles the fund for charter school facilities to $12 million. This amounts to a benefit of $342 per student (there are roughly 35,000 Tennessee students in charter schools).

Meanwhile, he announced a meager improvement to teacher salaries of around 2% – $71 million. This amounts to $71 per student.

So, charter schools — which serve only 3.5% of the state’s students — will see a 100% increase in available facility funding from the state while teachers will see only a 2% increase in pay.

If the two investments were equal and funded at the rate granted to charter schools, there would be a $342 million investment in teacher salaries. That’s roughly a 10% raise. A raise that’s desperately needed as Tennessee leads the nation in percentage of teachers with little to no classroom experience. We also have one of the largest teacher wage gaps in the Southeast.

As one Nashville teacher pointed out, Nashville – and the entire state — have a failed business plan:


I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Now, those are numbers for Nashville. Some teachers around the state have to teach for 10 years before they even hit $40,000. Still, the point is clear: The value proposition for teachers in our state is not very good. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s first budget is not doing much to change that. It’s the status quo. A nominal increase that will likely not entirely make it into teacher paychecks.

Tennessee’s numbers when it comes to both investment in schools and educational attainment are disappointing. Continuing along the same path means we’ll keep getting the same results.

The bottom line: Money matters.

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Looney Calls for Teacher Pay Raise

Citing an inability to attract new teachers, Williamson County Director of Schools Mike Looney recently asked his School Board for more than $12 million to improve teacher pay for early career teachers.

Franklin Home Page has more:

“Every single day — and it happened this week again — we offer a teacher with no experience a job, and they turn us down because they can go to a neighboring district and make 4 to 5 thousand dollars more,” WCS Superintendent Mike Looney said at Wednesday night’s Board of Education work session. “We compete very well with experienced teachers in compensation, but we simply do not compete with less-experienced teachers.”

Looney is asking the board to approve a proposed increase in teacher compensation for new hires through those with 10 years of experience. Current salary for a new teacher with a bachelor’s degree is $37,500, and it’s $39,500 for one with a master’s. The proposed increase would go to $40,150 and $43,975 respectively. The increase for a teacher in the system for 10 years would go from $43,776 to $47,519 for a teacher with a bachelor’s and from $46,909 to $52,046 for one with a master’s.

The move comes as Williamson County notes starting teachers in Rutherford and Davidson County earn more money while the cost of living in Williamson is relatively high.

At the same time, Nashville has been struggling to attract and retain teachers due to low compensation relative to similar metropolitan areas.

Should Williamson County approve the recommended increase, it may become even more difficult for Nashville to attract new teachers.

All of this in a state with an unbelievably high number of inexperienced teachers in classrooms.

The bottom line: It’s about money. Period. Teachers can’t pay their mortgages with “love for students” or an “intrinsically rewarding” job. It’s not like the bank takes “hugs from my kids” as payment for your car note.

Getting serious about teacher compensation is critical. If the wealthiest county in Tennessee is struggling to find new teachers and the “It City” can’t pay a living wage to teachers, Tennessee is in trouble.

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A National Leader


According to a recent report, Tennessee’s education policies have resulted in our state becoming a national leader in at least one category. The Learning Policy Institute notes that Tennessee has the highest percentage of 1st- and 2nd-year teachers of any state in the nation. Nearly 20% of Tennessee’s teacher workforce is very new to the profession. That’s well above the national average of 12.7%. When that number is combined with the percentage of uncertified teachers (4.1%), the outlook is not good: Our schools are not retaining experienced teachers. The national average for classrooms staffed by uncertified teachers is 2.6%.

Check out the data:

 

 

Teacher compensation in Tennessee is certainly one factor playing into this challenge. Our teachers are paid 27.3% less than individuals in similarly trained professions. In fact, we have among the highest teacher wage gaps in the country.

Helpfully, the Learning Policy Institute offers some recommendations for improving this situation:

Service scholarships and student loan forgiveness:
The cost of high-quality teacher preparation is a significant obstacle to those considering entering the teaching profession. To overcome such barriers, at least 40 states have established service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. These programs underwrite the cost of teacher preparation in exchange for a number of years of service in the profession. Research has found that effective service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs leverage greater recruitment into professional fields and locations where individuals are needed, and support retention.

High-retention pathways into teaching:
Teacher turnover is higher for those who enter the profession without adequate preparation. However, teachers often choose alternative certification pathways that omit student teaching and some coursework because, without financial aid, they cannot afford to be without an income for the time it takes to undergo teacher training. High-retention pathways are developed to subsidize the cost of teacher preparation and provide high-quality training for incoming teachers. These pathways include teacher residencies and Grow Your Own programs that recruit and prepare community members to teach in local school districts

Mentoring and induction for new teachers:
Evidence suggests that strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring. However, the number of states supporting mentoring and induction programs decreased during the recent recession, and a 2016 review of state policies found that just 16 states provide dedicated funding to support teacher induction. Under ESSA, states can leverage federal Title II, Part A funds to support new teacher induction and mentoring. Indeed, a number of states, including Delaware and Ohio, are taking such an approach. Other states have invested state funds to support new teacher induction, including Connecticut and Iowa.

High-quality school principals:
Principals play a central role in attracting and retaining talented teachers. Teachers cite principal support as one of the most important factors in their decision to stay in a school or in the profession. Therefore, states can benefit from building effective systems of preparation and professional development for school leaders. Title II, Part A of ESSA provides states with new opportunities to invest in and improve school leadership in ways that could increase teacher retention, including by reserving up to 3% of their state Title II, Part A funds for school leader development. Many states—including North Dakota and Tennessee—are seizing this opportunity, with nearly half of states using the optional 3% set aside and 21 states using ESSA funds to invest in principal preparation. The North Carolina Principal Fellows program is an example of a long-standing, successful state effort to support principal development.

Competitive compensation:
Not surprisingly, the lack of competitive compensation is one factor that frequently contributes to teacher shortages, affecting the quality and quantity of people planning to become teachers as well whether people decide to leave the teacher workforce. Even after adjusting for the shorter work year in teaching, beginning teachers nationally earn about 20% less than individuals with college degrees in other fields—a wage gap that widens to 30% by mid-career. Large inequities in teacher salaries among districts within the same labor market leave some high-need, under-resourced districts at a strong disadvantage in both hiring and retaining teachers. More competitive compensation can be a critical strategy to recruit and retain effective educators, although different approaches may be necessary depending on the state, regional, and district context.

Recruitment strategies to expand the pool of qualified educators:
In light of fiscal constraints, many states are also opting for low-cost policy solutions that expand the pool of qualified teachers. Such strategies include recruiting recently retired teachers back into the classroom to fill open positions and strengthening licensure reciprocity to ease undue burdens to cross-state mobility and allow experienced and accomplished educators the opportunity to seamlessly transition into service in a different state. Colorado, for example, is actively pursuing both strategies, and Idaho, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are also recruiting retired teachers to help address teacher shortages.

Tennessee should certainly move forward with a serious effort to improve teacher compensation as well as an early career mentoring/induction program. Coupling these two items with meaningful new investments in our schools could make both coming to and staying in teacher a more attractive proposition in our state.

Until then, it’s likely we’ll continue to see teachers leave the profession at higher than the national rate. We simply haven’t been committed to investing in our teachers and it shows.

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