$4000

That’s the raise teachers in Sumner County could see in 2020 if a proposal being advanced by Director of Schools Del Phillips secures funding from the Sumner County Commission.

According to Phillips, in a presentation made to the Sumner County School Board last night, the cost of the plan is an estimated $8.8 million. Phillips says he’s been working with the School Board in recent years to boost pay for classified employees and noted that all classified employees in Sumner County Schools now earn a minimum of $10 an hour.

The pay increase is necessary, Phillips argued, because similar systems are already paying teachers more than Sumner. Williamson, Wilson, Robertson, and Rutherford counties were used as reference points.

Here’s how Sumner County pay compares with these systems currently:

First year teacher with a bachelor’s degree

Sumner $36,100

Williamson $40,150

Wilson $40,000

Robertson $39,156

Rutherford $41,144

So, Sumner County has the lowest starting pay among peer districts — and it’s not even close.

Let’s look at veteran teachers.

Teachers with 15 years of experience and a master’s degree

Sumner $49,983

Williamson $57,463

Wilson $51,000

Robertson $51,204

Rutherford $59,842

Here again, Sumner County lags behind peer systems. Veteran teachers with advanced degrees make less in Sumner than in comparable middle Tennessee systems.

The new proposal would boost every step by $4000, ensuring no teacher started in Sumner at less than $40,100. Veteran teachers with advanced degrees would see mid-career salaries in the mid-50s, and those with 20 years or more would see pay in the $60,000+ range.

All of this would bring Sumner County in line with similar districts. Sumner already has one of the best benefit packages in middle Tennessee.

Phillips plans to ask the Sumner County Commission for a funding commitment for this plan at the August 19th meeting.

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Bill Lee’s ED

Governor Bill Lee has been on a tour of rural Tennessee counties the last two weeks. During his stops, he’s touting what he’s calling a successful first legislative session. If by success, he means securing passage of a school voucher scheme by any means necessary, sure, he’s been successful. Maybe he means siphoning public money to private schools by way of his Education Savings Account (ESA) plan to the tune of as much as $300 million? Or, perhaps he means demonstrating how he really feels about public school teachers by including the lowest increase in BEP salary funds in the last four budget cycles in his budget — all offering new money and easier access to charter schools.

What Bill Lee hasn’t done on these stops is tell the real story. Because it’s embarrassing. No one likes to talk about it. It’s Bill Lee’s ED. His Education Deficit. Since Bill Lee won’t admit it, I took the liberty of compiling some data to help him talk about it.

Here’s a look at each of the seven counties Lee visited in the past two weeks on his ED tour. I’ve noted first the average salary increase teachers in those counties received since 2015. Next, I’ve indicated the “BEP Gap” — that is, the number of positions each county pays for above what the state funding formula generates. Here’s what this means: The school system NEEDS those employees in order to provide a quality education. But, the state formula won’t pay for them. So, local taxpayers are left footing 100% of the cost of those positions. Data provided by the Comptroller of the Treasury and the Department of Education.

County Avg. salary increase BEP Gap

Bledsoe 3.4% 13

Meigs 1.5% 20

Loudon 1.4% 46

Giles 0.925% 81

Lawrence 1.9% 94

Lincoln 1.8% 49

Bedford 2.25% 24

As you can see, we’ve got some work to do. Teachers in these rural counties have salaries that lag below the state average and receive relatively low annual salary increases. Plus, taxpayers in these communities are left footing the bill for a BEP that simply isn’t adequate to meet the needs of our schools in 2019. Bill Lee did nothing to address the structural deficits in the BEP. Plus, he offered teachers the lowest state funds for raises in the last four budget cycles.

While Lee likes to ride around on a horse to tout his vitality, it’s clear there’s an ED problem he just doesn’t want to talk about.

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Briley and MNEA on Teacher Pay

Dueling statements were released today from Mayor David Briley and the Metro Nashville Education Association on a move to boost teacher pay in Nashville.

First, from Mayor Briley:

Mayor David Briley announced today that all MNPS teachers and employees will receive another 3 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) on January 1, 2020, in addition to the 3 percent COLA the Mayor made possible by allocating nearly $30 million in new funding for schools for FY2020. This allocation was six times the allocation in the last budget.

For weeks, the mayor has been working to find ways to get teachers more money this year while avoiding a tax increase. Thanks to MDHA’s help and the work done by the Council’s Tax Increment Financing Study and Formulating Committee, Mayor Briley is able to free up $7.5 million that would have been paid out of the MNPS budget to repay TIF loans. These funds are recurring, so the raise is “paid for” moving forward. This move does not require Council action since it will simply result in a reduced expenditure for MNPS.

This will bring all teachers to a 6% raise on January 1, 2020, which equates to a 4.5% increase over the course of the year. This is .5% higher than the COLA increase in the proposed substitute budgets that would have raised property taxes.

“I have been working on the MNPS budget with Dr. Battle and Dr. Gentry, trying to find the best possible way to get recurring dollars to teachers while not penalizing the 40% of MNPS teachers who are “topped out” and while avoiding a property tax increase this year – something that would have hurt in-county teachers more than the proposed raises would have helped,” Mayor Briley said. “With this increase in place, we will continue our in-depth talks about comprehensive pay plan restructuring for teachers so the more than half of all teachers who are topped out of receiving meaningful increases will get them in future years. There’s work to be done, but this is an important first step.”

This plan has the support of MNPS School Board Chair Dr. Sharon Gentry and MNPS Director Dr. Adrienne Battle.

“Mayor Briley’s investment shows a deep commitment to our teachers and staff members, and we thank him for his leadership and support for public education,” Dr. Battle said. “When Mayor Briley saw an opportunity for supplemental revenue, he ensured that it was dedicated to funding a raise for staff members, which is in addition to the raise they are receiving at the start of the year. We are only as successful as our amazing staff, and the Mayor’s actions show how he values them. Our goal is that these resources also ensure that we are able to maintain funding for other new strategic investments. MNPS is thankful to partner with the Mayor and Metro Council who are dedicated to the success of our students and staff.”

The $7.5 million will come to schools in the form of a reduction in the $11.2 million they would otherwise have paid to MDHA for TIF loan repayments this year. In short, it cuts that bill by $7.5 million, freeing up those funds for raises. MNPS will continue to pay what it is required to pay MDHA each year.

“I am grateful to Dr. Adrienne Battle, the MNPS Board, MDHA and the members of the TIF Study and Formulating Committee, whose hard work and support made this additional COLA possible,” Mayor Briley continued. “I plan to keep at it, and I know we have more great things to come for all students and teachers in our schools.”

A response from MNEA:

Today, the Metropolitan Nashville Board of Education received a sudden offer of $7.5 million in additional funding from Mayor Briley in the form of an adjustment to $11.2 million previously slated to be diverted from Metro Schools to fund tax increment finance (TIF) debt. While teachers and schools welcome additional funding for our cash-strapped public schools, the method by which this “plan” was developed smells of political intrigue, vote buying, and extortion. Briley’s letter to the board of education intentionally leaves ambiguous the question of whether the $7.5 decrease in TIF funding will extend beyond 2019-2020.

Unfortunately, the Briley plan comes with a demand that the board not fund teachers’ step raises but use his approach to adjust salaries. If Mayor Briley truly wanted to help schools, he should have supported the Vercher amendment rather than threaten a veto designed to hamstring the Metro Council. His games unnecessarily exposed certain brave, schoolsupporting council members to unnecessary risk of criticism by voters on the right and forced other council members to betray organized labor and our schools.

At the end of the 2017-2018 fiscal year, MNPS was compelled to transfer $3.5 million dollars to MDHA to meet increased TIF obligations to MDHA based on tax collections in excess of budgeted projections. In the 2018-2019 budget TIF transfers were budgeted to increase, but MNPS was not required to pay the complete amount. Today, Mayor Briley admitted TIF loan obligations have been overstated, and there is no need to extract additional tax revenue from our schools in 2019-2020. Nashville’s chronically-underfunded schools deserve deliberate, honest funding streams that do not rely on selling assets or require refinancing schemes that ultimate cost more money to our tax payers. No one should mistake Briley’s newest shell game as a magnanimous gesture to support teachers or schools. See it as vote grab!

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Just Pay the Bill

This story about retailers attempting to be “good citizens” by offering discounts to teachers actually highlights two larger problems: We don’t adequately fund our schools AND we don’t pay teachers what they deserve.

We already know there’s a significant teacher pay gap across the country. That gap is particularly troubling in Tennessee — a state with a teacher pay gap above the national average. In fact, Tennessee has one of the worst teacher pay gaps in the Southeast. Teachers in Tennessee earn 27.3% less than their similarly-educated peers. Not only that, teacher pay in Tennessee is growing at a rate well below 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.

Then, there’s the issue of basic supplies for learning. Here’s the promotion that got the attention of the writer:

Target wants to help teachers stretch their back-to-school dollars on more than just supplies for their classrooms.

For the second year, the Minneapolis-based retailer will offer teachers a weeklong 15% discount on select items starting July 13, officials shared exclusively with USA TODAY Wednesday…

This year, in addition to school supplies and essentials, which include disinfecting wipes and food storage bags, adult clothing and accessories, Pillowfort furniture and Bullseye’s Playground items also are included.

Here’s the bottom line: School systems should just buy the damn supplies. School administrators should find out what teachers need — the basics, yes, paper, pencils, etc. And also find out what else is needed to run an excellent classroom at all levels and then forward that request to the school system.

Lots of these items could be found at reasonable prices due to bulk purchasing discounts. Moreover, it’s important to have a clear understanding of what it takes to run a classroom and a school.

Not once in the 20+ years that I’ve worked professionally have I been asked to purchase and bring in the supplies I need to do my job. But we ask that of teachers ALL THE TIME.

Stop it. As the writer says:

Stores that have “back to school” sales so parents can buy all those necessary supplies that (usually elementary) teachers post on their classrooms doors or windows?  Nope.  If public education is a public good, then the schools should provide the necessary supplies.

Is public education a public good in Tennessee? Our Constitution says so:

Article XI, Section 12 of the Tennessee Constitution says, “The General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance, support and eligibility standards of a system of free public schools.”

That obligation was reinforced in the 1993 Tennessee Supreme Court decision in Small Schools v. McWherter:

“The constitution imposes upon the General Assembly the obligation to maintain and support a system of free public schools that affords substantially equal educational opportunities to all students.”

Simply put, Governor Lee and the General Assembly are not living up to this obligation. According to the Comptroller of the Treasury, we under-fund schools by at least $500 million.

We routinely ask underpaid teachers to fill in the gaps when it comes to supplies. And we applaud the businesses who offer discount promotions to teachers or back-to-school sales as if they are actually doing something. If they wanted real change, those business leaders would be at school board and county commission meetings asking for the needed revenue to fund schools adequately. Then, they’d go to the General Assembly — to the very politicians their businesses bankroll – and pursue policy change that resulted in excellent teacher pay and fully-funded schools.

Too often, though, those same businesses beg the state for tax incentives — enriching themselves at public expense while true public goods like education suffer.

Our state needs leaders who will call this out — leaders not beholden to the private entities who want your tax dollars to boost their profits. Our public schools are a priority in our state Constitution. They should be a priority for our political leaders as well.

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4% for Knox Teachers

The Knox County Board of Education approved a 4% raise for teachers at a recent meeting, according to WBIR-TV in Knoxville:

BOE members voted in favor to give teachers a 4%, which is up from a 3.5% raise in 2020 education budget the BOE passed in April. 

Board Chair Patti Bounds said that’s the largest raise for Knox County teachers in at least a decade and said teachers deserve it. She also said it will help the county retain good talent.

The move comes even as Governor Bill Lee’s education budget only included a 2.5% increase in the state allocation to districts for teacher salaries.

Many districts around the state are looking at actual raises for teachers in the 1-3% range as the state’s school funding formula continues to suffer from a significant deficit in funding.

Tennessee teachers earn well below the national and even regional averages for teacher salaries, with teacher salaries in Tennessee increasing at less than half the national rate over the past eight years.

Overall, Tennessee ranks 44th in education funding in the country.

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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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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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