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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