Haslam Really Wants to Raise Teacher Pay

But he probably won’t.

Not in 2015, anyway.

Just yesterday, the Tennessee Education Association called on Haslam to deliver on his teacher pay promise.

But Haslam says the state is out of money and can’t possibly be raising anyone’s pay.

Back in October, Haslam said paying teachers more, “might be a good idea.”

But again, the issue comes back to where to find the money.

Why isn’t there any money?

Here’s an excerpt from an article I wrote back in April:

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17′s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

The interesting thing is, overall revenue collection is UP in Tennessee for the first three months of FY2015.

Yes, collections for certain corporate taxes contiue to fall, but despite this, overall revenue keeps going up.

Here’s the breakdown based on reports from the Department of Revenue:

Month          Overall Increase               Sales Tax Increase

July                 2.4%                                          3.1%

August         3.7%                                            6.7%

Sept.            7.4%                                            5.3%

Oct.              5.7%                                           7.3%

 

So, net revenue is up before any tax loopholes that are allowing business tax revenue to escape are closed.

If that trend continues, it would seem difficult for Haslam to keep making the argument that there’s just no money available to invest in schools.

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

 

 

TEA Calls on Haslam to Deliver on Teacher Pay Promise

The Tennessee Education Association is asking Governor Haslam and the General Assembly to give teachers a 6% raise in the next session of the General Assembly. The association says it is Haslam’s chance to deliver on his promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

The group suggests that revenue is available, as sales tax collections continue to improve. Additionally, the group notes that closing corporate tax loopholes could stop losses in Franchise and Excise tax collections and allow for investment in teacher salaries.

From a press release:

The Tennessee Education Association today called on Governor Bill Haslam to fulfill his October 2013 promise to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.” The call comes just days before Haslam conducts his first budget hearing for the Department of Education.

“Governor Haslam has said he intends to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay,” said TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder. “Teachers are eagerly anticipating his budget hearing on Friday to see if he will start living up to that promise.”

State teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011, Haslam’s first year in office, when compared with the Consumer Price Index.

“When you factor in rising insurance premiums, some Tennessee teachers’ salaries are worth less now than they were when Haslam took office,” Crowder continued. “We are hopeful that the governor will rectify this situation and include a desperately needed raise in his proposed budget.”

TEA is asking Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to ultimately increase the state’s BEP funding for teacher salaries from $40,000 to $45,000 per BEP-generated teacher. Based on 2014 salary numbers, that would be a net increase to the average teacher’s salary of 11.3 percent.

“We’re not asking for this to happen all at once, but we are asking for the governor to get serious about investing in our teachers. The povertization of the teaching profession in Tennessee must stop,” Crowder said.

TEA’s proposal would mean a 6 percent increase in pay this year, with the remainder of the increase to be phased in over two to three years.

Crowder notes that many teachers didn’t get a raise this year or last, while inflation and classroom supplies coming out of teachers’ pockets have hit family budgets hard.

“Six percent is fair and critical, helping us break even with inflation because of stagnation at the state level and gets us on the road to becoming the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.”

By building the pay increase into the BEP formula, local school systems would receive additional financial support from the state.

“This proposal represents an investment in our state’s teachers and their students, but it also represents an investment in communities across Tennessee struggling to meet their budgets. We’re simply asking Governor Haslam to honor his promises and make investing in public schools a priority.”

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

Why is TN 40th?

Recently, I wrote about Tennessee’s history of not investing in its teachers. Specifically, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in overall teacher pay and 40th in growth in teacher pay over time. So, Tennessee teachers are paid low salaries and those salaries don’t improve much as teachers advance in their careers.

Now, I’d like to take a look at why Tennessee teacher pay is low and is not improving.

The simple answer is this: The BEP is broken.

The BEP is the Basic Education Plan which is the state funding formula for public schools. The formula includes a number of components, including funding for teaching and staff positions based on district size as well as allocations for teacher salaries and insurance. It is the mechanism by which the state fulfills its constitutional responsibility to provide a free public education to all Tennessee students.

The BEP is not the sole funding source for public schools. Instead, the BEP generates dollars that are sent to local districts and each district is also asked to pay a share of the cost of providing education to the students there. The formula includes a mechanism which identifies a district’s “ability to pay” and districts receive a percentage of the total anticipated education funding needs based on that ability. Small, rural counties typically receive a much larger percentage of their total education budget from state BEP dollars than do large, urban districts or wealthy suburban districts.

The idea behind the formula is to introduce an element of equity to Tennessee schools. That is, no matter where a child lives, he or she should have access to a high quality education. Sure, wealthier districts will likely always spend more to enhance the basic program, but at a fundamental level, a child in Hancock County should be able to access the same basic educational opportunities as a child in Williamson County.

One key indicator of equity historically has been disparity in teacher pay across districts. Yes, a teacher in Shelby County has a higher cost of living than one in Perry County. But, fundamentally, the gap between salaries should not be such as to deprive rural districts of the opportunity to compete for teaching talent.

Back in 2002, the small school systems that originally banded together to sue the state to create the BEP sued the state again. This time, arguing that because of the widening disparity in teacher pay, education funding in the state was no longer equitable. At that time, the highest-paying districts in the state were paying salaries nearly 46% higher than the lowest-paying districts (based on numbers from the TN Department of Education). The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the small schools and ordered the state to move toward funding fairness. As a result, the state made teacher salary a formal component of the BEP and funded it at a fixed percentage.

In the years following this adjustment, the pay disparity among districts dropped from 46% to 35%. The parties to the equity lawsuit agreed this was progress and from 2004-2009, the disparity hovered in the 35-36% range.

Following the economic recession of 2008-2009, however, investment in the instructional component of the BEP stagnated. This enabled wealthier districts to continue investing in their teachers while poorer districts could not keep up.

In 2014, the salary disparity among districts is just under 42%. Yes, that’s not far from the 46% ruled unconstitutional back in the 2002 case. And, the trend is heading in the wrong direction for equity, having worsened some 7 percentage points since 2008.

Why does this keep happening? The BEP is broken.

As I mentioned, the BEP includes an instructional component which provides districts funding for teacher salaries. The current instructional component sets a salary number of $40,447. The state then funds this component at 70%, leaving districts to pay 30% of the salary cost for that teacher.

There are a few problems with this. 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. This add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP.

Next, the state sets the instructional component for teacher salary at $40,447. The average salary actually paid to Tennessee teachers is $50,355.  That’s slightly below the Southeastern average and lower than six of the eight states bordering Tennessee. In short, an average salary any lower would not even approach competitiveness with our neighbors.

But, this gets to the reason why salary disparity is growing among districts. The state funds 70% of the BEP instructional component. That means the state sends districts $28,333.90 per BEP-generated teacher. But districts pay an average of $50,355 per teacher they employ. That’s a $22,000 disparity. In other words, instead of paying 70% of a district’s basic instructional costs, the state is paying 56%.

There’s an easy fix to this and it has been contemplated by at least one large school system in the state. That fix? Moving the BEP instructional component to the state average. Doing so would cost just over $500 million. So, it’s actually NOT that easy. Another goal of those seeking greater equity is moving the BEP instructional match from 70% to 75%, essentially fulfilling the promise of BEP 2.0. Doing so would cost at least $150 million.

Oh, and there’s one other problem with the BEP as it currently functions that impacts equity. The BEP insurance component. The BEP provides funds (45%) for teacher insurance. But, the BEP only funds teacher insurance for 10 months. Teachers receive insurance for 12 months. This creates a gap that MUST be filled by local districts. Wealthier districts are better able to absorb this cost while continuing to offer competitive pay. Poorer districts often keep salaries low in order to make up the money needed to cover the state-mandated insurance match.

Taking the state’s insurance match from the BEP from 10 months to 12 months would cost $64 million. It would also free up funds that could be used to close the salary gap among districts while easing the burden on local taxpayers. While addressing the salary issue will take creativity and some patience, the insurance issue is one that can be fixed with the exertion of some reasonable effort. That is, someone willing to find a way to allocate $64 million to the BEP in a state budget that is over $30 billion. It may mean less money in reserves. It may mean making different choices in terms of budget priorities.

The BEP is broken. It can be fixed. Doing so will require a commitment to investing in teachers and schools. It will require an adjustment in the state’s priorities. But, the broken BEP can be fixed.

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

Shelby County Schools Seek More State Funding

The Commercial Appeal reports that the Shelby County School Board has passed a resolution asking the state to properly fund public schools through the state’s BEP funding formula.

The board is asking the state to pay $10,000 more toward teacher salaries and fund 12 months of insurance premiums for district staff, instead of 10. The requests are also the top recommendations from the state Basic Education review committee from last year.

If the two requests were funded, SCS would receive $99.5 million in state funding, enough to give teachers the biggest raise they’ve had in years, while also offsetting the cost of monthly insurance premiums. The cost for the year now is spread over 10 months.

For more than two decades, the state has paid health insurance on a 10-month basis. Last year, the cost to cover 12 months was estimated at $60.4 million. This year’s estimate is $64 million.

In 2007, the state attempted to address the BEP funding shortfall by passing BEP 2.0, but that program has never been fully-funded.

Tennessee consistently ranks at or near the bottom of the country in terms of per pupil spending. Additionally, Tennessee’s teacher salaries consistently grow at a pace below the national average.

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

 

TEA on TFA

Over at the TEA website, there’s a story on a recent TFA Truth Tour event at Vanderbilt. From the report:

A Teach for America graduate and former charter school teacher criticized the program at a Vanderbilt event Tuesday night, stating he believes the program’s goals are contradicted by its practices.

Chad Sommer says low wages, lack of support for teachers and poor working conditions at public schools across America have exacerbated high turnover and created a barrier to student achievement and quality instruction, which are among TFA’s stated goals.

Sommer spoke during the Teach for America Truth Tour at Vanderbilt University in Nashville this week.

Sommer also noted that he believes TFA is too closely aligned with the charter school movement and too supportive of high-stakes standardized testing.

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

Haslam: Paying Teachers More “Might Be a Good Idea”

Roughly a year after Governor Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in teacher pay, he now seems uncertain about the idea. In a recent story in the Tennessean about a conflict between legislative Democrats and Haslam on Pre-K expansion, Haslam said:

“The key is like everything else: ‘Should we do Pre-k?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ ‘Should we pay teachers more?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ I could keep going with that list. It’s more a question of, given the reality of a limited budget that we have and are always going to have, should that be a priority for funding?”

This certainly doesn’t sound like a leader who is planning to move forward on improving teacher pay anytime soon. This in spite of early indicators that doing so may well be fiscally viable.

 

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

From 40th to 1st?

Around this time last year, Governor Haslam stated his intention to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher salaries. He even tweeted it: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

And, at the Governor’s request, the BEP Review Committee included in its annual report the note:

The BEP Review Committee supports Governor Haslam’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in teacher salaries during his time in office…

Of course, Haslam wasn’t able to pay the first installment on that promise. Teachers then and since then have expressed disappointment.

But, what does it mean to be the fastest improving? How is Tennessee doing now?

Well, according to a recent report by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center, Tennessee ranks 40th in average teacher pay and 40th in teacher salary improvement over the past 10 years.

That means we have a long way to go to become the fastest improving state in the nation. Bill Haslam will certainly be re-elected in November. And that means he has about 5 years left in office. What’s his plan to take Tennessee from 40th in teacher salary improvement to 1st in just 5 years?

Does it even matter?

Yes. Teacher compensation matters. As the ARCC report notes, Tennessee has a long history of teacher compensation experiments that typically fizzle out once the money gets tight or a new idea gains traction.

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

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.

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time. Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed notes that a recent analysis of teaching climate ranked Tennessee 41st in the nation. Not exactly great news.

Moreover, an analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics notes that raising teacher pay correlates to increased student achievement.

The point is, Bill Haslam has the right goal in mind. Tennessee should absolutely be aiming to improve teacher salaries and do it quickly. The question remains: What’s his plan to make that happen?

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

“Tennessee Solution” a Viable Option?

Back in April, when Governor Haslam betrayed teachers and state employees and took their proposed pay increase out of his budget, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed what they then called the Tennessee Solution.

The plan had a price tag of $90 million and used reserve funds to pay out a one time bonus to teachers and state employees. The plan also called for a 1% raise to be provided only if state revenues exceeded budgeted targets.

By doing so, the plan put money in the pockets of teachers (essentially delivering a portion of Haslam’s promise) and also offered hope of more funds should the state find the money. Essentially, it said that if there is extra money, the first priority for those funds should be our teachers.

Ultimately, Haslam’s forces prevailed and that idea was rejected.

Now, there’s news that August revenues were far above projections. More than $30 million ahead, to be specific. The increase is due to the highest sales tax collections in more than two years. And, despite a negative growth number for non-corporate taxes, collections there were $6.1 million over budget.

If this type of revenue growth continues, delivering on the Tennessee Solution would be very doable. Except that the legislature decided against it at Haslam’s urging.

Yes, it’s still early in the revenue cycle, but making education a priority was the right thing to do in April and early revenue numbers show it fiscally feasible as well.

Next up, tomorrow’s Education Summit in Nashville. Where Haslam and friends should be talking about how best to use any unexpected revenue growth to invest in Tennessee’s public schools.

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

Fitzhugh, Frogge Take on Tennessee Ed Reform

House Democratic Leader Craig Fitzhugh and Nashville School Board member Amy Frogge both had Tennessean op-eds this weekend that challenged the state’s education establishment to start listening to teachers when it comes to deciding what schools and students need.

Fitzhugh referenced a recent letter to teachers from Governor Bill Haslam and noted its very tone was insulting. Teachers have also responded to Haslam.

From Fitzhugh’s op-ed:

Tennessee teachers don’t need the governor to explain to them that too many students are unprepared for a postsecondary education — they see it firsthand every morning. Instead of lecturing on the issue, the governor should give our teachers the tools they need to succeed, starting with the raise they were promised in 2014 and working to increase per pupil spending beyond our woeful $8,600 a child.

Instead of talking down to our teachers, instead of blaming them for the state of our workforce, we need a new conversation.

We need to talk about a new evaluation system that grades teachers on students they actually teach and rates their performance in a fair, objective manner. We need to talk about per-pupil spending, teacher salaries and where our priorities are as a state. We need to talk about prekindergarten and the real effects of early learning.

In her article, Amy Frogge also pushes for more respect for teachers and argues that evidence-based practices chosen by teachers should be driving education policy:

As a community, we must ensure that every child comes to school ready to learn. Research confirms that poverty, not poor teachers, is at the root of sagging school performance. Indeed, the single biggest factor impacting school performance is the socioeconomic status of the student’s family. Nashville has seen a 42 percent increase in poverty in the past 10 years, and our child poverty and hunger rates remain alarmingly high throughout the U.S. Too many of our students lack basic necessities, and many suffer what experts have termed “toxic stress” caused by chronic poverty. Our efforts to address this problem must extend outside of school walls to provide “wrap-around services” that address social, emotional and physical needs of children through community partnerships and volunteers.

Other evidence-based, scalable school reforms include:

• excellent teacher recruitment, development, retention, and pay;

• socioeconomic diversity in schools;

• increased parental engagement;

• early intervention programs such as high quality pre-K, particularly for low-income children; and

• increased school funding. Let’s focus on these reforms, maintain local control of schools, and allow educators — not hedge funders — to have a voice in the direction of education policy.

 

Fitzhugh and Frogge offer an alternative vision from that dominating Tennessee’s education policy landscape. It is a vision of trusting teachers, investing in schools, and putting students first.

 

 

 

 

No thank you, Mr. Haslam

On August 14th, Governor Bill Haslam sent a “Welcome Back” letter to teachers across the state. In the letter, he thanked teachers for their hard work in helping Tennessee improve its student achievement scores. He said he appreciated what they did for Tennessee students every day.

Apparently, some teachers haven’t forgotten that this is the same Bill Haslam who promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay in October of 2013 and included a teacher pay raise in his 2014 budget address … only to break that promise in April.

Some teachers sent responses directly back to Haslam. And some of those same teachers sent their responses to TN Ed Report under the condition we keep their names anonymous.  Here are some of the responses we received:

Teacher Response #1:

I appreciate your attempt to understand the inner workings of a classroom and appreciate your words of appreciation for those of us who chose to serve others through teaching. However, I am highly disappointed at the turn of events in which you announced that teachers would not receive pay raises. We already make much less than other TN State employees and much less than teachers of other states.

It is easy to make promises and to break them:
http://tnreport.com/2013/10/04/raising-teacher-pay-a-top-budget-concern-for-haslam-administration/   

I am personally insulted in your lack of support for the teaching profession. My colleagues and I work hard for the families we serve. A normal day for most of us is  7:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Though we are only paid to work 8:00 until 3:15, our jobs cannot be completed in those hours. Many times we take student work home with us and are constantly looking for ways to improve our teaching on our own time.

Teachers are generally told “no one teaches for the money”. TRUE, but teachers never expected to be put on the “budget cutting” chopping block each time raises are considered. We feel betrayed with popular campaign promises and rhetoric.

In closing, make no mistake that our hard work is not completed for you or any elected official. Our hard work is for the children we PROMISED to educate when we accepted our jobs. Your letter of appreciation proves that WE have not failed those who have put their trust
in us, including you.

Teacher Response #2

Please tell the PR firm that suggested you send these letters that we teachers are
well educated and therefore insulted that they would believe a letter full of
empty words could ever make up for what you and your administration have done
and are doing to ensure the destruction of public education in Tennessee.

Teaching is more than a job to me. Teaching is my calling. I sincerely love all of my
students and work tirelessly for them. I most often work six full days a week
to ensure that they have exactly what they need to succeed. I spend hundreds
sometimes more than a thousand dollars of my own limited income every year to
make sure that their needs are met. I was always proud to be a teacher but, not
so much these days. Mostly these days my heart aches for my children. I spend many
hours crying for them. Your administration has stripped our classrooms of all
joy. Teacher morale is low because we are working in hostile conditions.

Finally, please keep your empty words. This letter is too little, too late.

Teacher Response #3

I am in receipt of your letter of August 14, 2014.
 
I appreciate the welcome back to school. And it is nice to hear the words “thank you.”
 
In your letter, you note that Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the nation in terms of student achievement. You attribute this success directly to teachers.
 
I seem to remember that in October of 2013, you also promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher pay — an acknowledgement of the hard work so many Tennessee teachers are doing every single day.
 
Your budget, proposed in early 2014, also indicated at least a nominal raise for teachers was forthcoming.
 
Then, in April, you abandoned that promise.  When the state revenue picture changed, the budget was balanced on the backs of teachers. Not only did your new budget take away promised raises for teachers, but it also reduced BEP funding coming to school districts. Now, teachers are being asked to do more with less.  And students suffer.
 
Your words ring hollow when your actions make it clear that teachers don’t matter. That our schools can wait just one more year for the resources students need to succeed.
 
As for your “thank you” for the work I do, I’d note that I can’t send it to the bank to pay my mortgage. A thank you isn’t going to fix my car when it needs repair. When the price of groceries goes up, I can’t simply use your thank you letter to cover the increase. And when my health insurance premium inevitably rises in January, your letter won’t put money back in my paycheck to cover the cost.
 
The raise you promised but failed to deliver would have helped with all of these things. But your letter does nothing but remind me that you say nice words and shortchange our schools.
 
In my classroom, I place a high value on integrity. That means doing what you say you’re going to do. On that scale, sir, you rate an F.
We received copies of other responses that mentioned the poor communication style of Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the loss of collective bargaining rights. While teachers may not have a viable alternative to Haslam on the ballot in November, those sending us copies of their responses made it clear they won’t be supporting Haslam.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport