10 Cents on the Dollar

That’s what Gov. Bill Lee is proposing for teachers in his COVID-19 package for education. This is just the latest in what has become a pattern of showing blatant disrespect for educators in his budget proposals.

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) breaks down the proposal and what it will mean for educators:

“Tennessee’s educators have worked hundreds of additional hours during the fall semester to maintain instruction and keep our students engaged during this pandemic,” said TEA President Beth Brown. “The proposed $43 million in one-time teacher salary funds is far lower than what the state can afford, and far less than what educators have earned and deserve.”

TEA estimates the average educator worked more than 13 additional hours per week this fall to maintain daily instruction—virtually, in-person, or a hybrid—with a large portion of Tennessee’s educators working 20 or more additional hours. The value of the additional instruction work was approximately $5,700 per educator. The administration proposal comes to approximately $570.

The General Assembly eliminated a $117 million 4% educator raise in June, citing falling revenue due to the pandemic. Since then, the state recorded $369 million in surplus to end the last fiscal year and has collected $715 million surplus revenue in just the first five months of this fiscal year. 

“In the upcoming special session, the administration and General Assembly have an important opportunity to recognize the sacrifices made for our students and to take steps toward making educators whole for the unpaid hours we’ve worked,” Brown said. “What has been initially proposed does not do that. Appropriating $200 million — just a fifth of the surplus revenue collected since June  – would be more appropriate and still be affordable. A more significant investment will go a long way in recognizing the extraordinary effort of our state’s educators.”

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Just Call Bill Lee

A new hotline was announced today to provide emotional support to teachers struggling in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Why are teachers struggling? Amanda Kail of MNEA has some ideas.

Here’s the full press release:

Today, the Tennessee Department of Education and the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services (TDMHSAS), in partnership with several statewide organizations, announced the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is now available for all Tennessee educators. 

The emotional support line provides free and confidential support from specially trained volunteer mental health professionals to callers experiencing increased anxiety and stress due to the national pandemic. The COVID-19 Emotional Support Line is available to call at 888-642-7886 from 6 a.m.- 10 p.m. CT/ 7 a.m.- 11 p.m. ET daily. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought about significant challenges, anxiety and stressors for many, including those doing the work of educating our kids,” said Commissioner Penny Schwinn. “We are grateful to our partners at TDMHSAS for extending access to this resource to all Tennessee educators, who now can get critical supports from trained mental health professionals in a confidential setting.”    

Specially trained mental health professionals answer incoming calls from the line and provide emotional support through active listening, helping callers identify and address basic needs, and informing callers about tools for managing stress and strategies for self-care. 

In May, the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line was created by the Tennessee Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, along with the Mental Health Active Response Team (MHART), the Tennessee Association of Alcohol, Drug, and other Addictions Services (TAADAS), National Association of Social Workers-TN Chapter (NASW-TN), for healthcare workers and first responders who are on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic response. 

“When we created this Emotional Support Line with our partners back in May, it was intended for those working on the front lines of the pandemic working in health care and as first responders. Due to the outpouring of support as well as capacity, we are grateful to be able to announce this expansion to offer needed support to educators across the state of Tennessee,” said TDMHSAS Commissioner Marie Williams, LCSW. 

“We at MHART are so thankful to be able to be a part of facilitating the expansion of this Emotional Support Line to all teachers and educators across the state of Tennessee. The fact that 5 statewide organizations have come together in the span of just a few weeks to support this expansion is a testament to the goodwill of Tennesseans and to the desperate need for a service like this for educators who have been struggling during this pandemic now more than ever. We are committed to being there for our teachers because they are committed to being there for our kids in one of the noblest and oldest professions. The future of our state depends on their success,” said T.J. Stone, Executive Coordinator, MHART. 

The COVID-19 Emotional Support Line does not offer mental health treatment and is not intended to replace mental health crisis or suicide prevention services. The TDMHSAS Statewide Crisis Line is available at 855-274-7471 or by texting “TN” to 741-741. 

Learn more about the COVID-19 Emotional Support Line here.  

Or, Teachers Can Just Call Bill Lee

After all, it is Gov. Bill Lee who allegedly leads our state government. A state government that is failing to adequately report data on teachers with COVID.

It is Lee who during the emergency COVID budget discussion completely eliminated a planned teacher pay raise even while declaring that teachers are essential workers.

It is Lee who insisted (and still insists) that we continue with state testing of kids even though those tests won’t be used in any so-called accountability measures.

It is Lee who continues to hire former legislators intent on privatizing public schools so he can pass a voucher scheme.

It’s Bill Lee who consistently demonstrates he’s not a fan or supporter of our public schools or their teachers. His actions are speaking. Loudly.

So, teachers, when you need some support, call Bill Lee.

Here’s that number:

615-741-2001

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From 4 to 2 to 0

In what was ultimately a failed effort to preserve his planned school voucher scheme, Gov. Bill Lee cut a planned teacher pay increase from 4% to 2% in his emergency COVID-19 budget. Now, as the General Assembly considers the economic fallout from the pandemic, it appears the teacher salary boost will move to zero. This while key state officials are slated to receive raises. More from Fox 17 in Nashville:

Legislative staff which has analyzed Tennessee Governor Bill Lee’s budget recommendations is calling out the state’s revised budget for keeping the salary increases of some officials while cutting teacher increases.

According to Governor Bill Lee’s new budget overview, the revised budget gives the governor a $4,600 raise which reflects a 2% increase. Others, such as the Attorney General, judges, district attorneys, and more will also receive raises which are mandated by statute.

However, the legislative staff notes the 2% salary increase for K-12 teachers, higher education employees, and state workers is eliminated in the new budget.

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Paying the Mortgage with Intentions

In Monday’s State of the State Address, Governor Bill Lee outlined a proposal for a 4% adjustment to the BEP salary schedule. This will likely mean an actual increase for teachers of 2% or less. In fact, the Associated Press reports that when pressed on the issue, Administration officials admitted that the nature of the BEP means teachers likely won’t receive an actual 4% pay bump.


A day after Gov. Bill Lee boasted he was proposing the largest investment in teacher pay in Tennessee history, top administration officials acknowledged the addition wouldn’t necessarily result in big pay raises for the state’s educators.


Finance and Administration Commissioner Stuart McWhorter told lawmakers Tuesday it was Lee’s “intent” for teachers to receive a 4% raise under the governor’s recently unveiled spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year. However, due to the state’s complicated school funding formula, teachers could get a smaller pay bump.

One way to ensure this “intent” becomes reality is to require the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the same 4% that the Governor is proposing and the legislature will hopefully approve. That hasn’t always happened.

Of course, another challenge is that while the amount allotted for salaries is increasing, the BEP formula underestimates teacher need by at least 9000 positions:


In Tennessee, classroom size requirements have forced districts to hire more than 9,000 teachers beyond what the BEP provides to pay for their salaries, according to a statewide analysis presented by the Department of Education in December to the BEP Review Committee.

Lee’s proposal does nothing to address the structural inadequacy of the BEP. This means districts are forced to distribute salary funds in a way that virtually ensures the 4% increase results in a raise that’s half that or less when it comes to teacher paychecks.

Teachers can’t pay their mortgage with an “intended raise.” Actual money is needed to both boost pay and adequately staff schools.

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100% for Charters, 4% for Teachers

Last year, Governor Bill Lee doubled the charter school slush fund while only offering a pittance to public school teachers. This year, he’s pulling a similar trick, again doubling the charter school slush fund — from $12 million to $24 million — while offering teachers a paltry 4% increase in the BEP salary number (which means an actual raise of about 2%).

Lee’s 2020-21 budget includes $24 million in funding for charter school facilities. This is a 100% improvement over the 2019-2020 budget. Simultaneously, Lee is touting a 4% increase in BEP funding for teacher salaries. This means an actual raise of less than 2% for most teachers. Even if you assume a net gain of 4%, you get a 70 cent an hour raise.

Let’s be clear: Governor Lee prioritizes charter schools over Tennessee’s public school teachers. His last two budgets make that plain.

It’s also worth noting that Lee has made NO effort to improve BEP funding even as the state’s own Department of Education indicates we are 9000 teachers short of proper funding:


In Tennessee, classroom size requirements have forced districts to hire more than 9,000 teachers beyond what the BEP provides to pay for their salaries, according to a statewide analysis presented by the Department of Education in December to the BEP Review Committee.

So, we’re at a minimum of $500 million short of properly funding our schools and Lee’s proposal is to give the teachers we have a 2% raise. No word on improving the BEP. No word on a significant salary boost for existing teachers. Just 2% for teachers (4% in BEP funds), and another 100% increase for charter schools.

Could Gov. Lee’s priorities be more clear?

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