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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Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad

Chalkbeat has the story of how 1 in 3 Tennessee teachers is seeking a way out of the profession. The data comes from the annual Tennessee Educator Survey released last week. Here’s more:

A third of Tennessee teachers say they would leave the profession for a higher-paying job and also would choose a different career if given a do-over, according to the results of a new statewide survey.

The bad news comes amidst a national teacher shortage that is definitely impacting Tennessee. In fact, Metro Nashville schools opened the year with more than 100 vacancies and a number of schools have few math teachers. Nearby Sumner County opened school with as many as 30 vacancies and has taken action — raising pay by $4000.

It’s no wonder Tennessee teachers want to leave the profession. Not only do they earn less than their peers in similar states, as Chalkbeat notes, they also earn nearly 30% less than similarly trained professionals:

This year’s results indicate a national average teacher pay gap of 23.8%. Tennessee’s gap is 27.3%. That’s an improvement of two points for Tennessee, which had a gap of 29.3% two years ago.

Of course, Bill Lee’s focus on vouchers and funding for charter schools instead of teacher pay only serves to exacerbate the problem:

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.

Of course, teachers cite more than pay as a reason for wanting to leave the profession. Many cite the poor treatment by the state as an impetus for wanting to exit the field. For example, Kindergarten teachers have essentially been told their opinions about what’s best for kids count for nothing:

So, teachers and students will have to wait ONE MORE YEAR until the DOE actually provides an alternative model. That means your Kindergarten student will be losing instructional time and that teachers across the state will be forced to jump through meaningless hoops in order to meet a ridiculous mandate.

Does the TNDOE care? Nope. Not at all.

It’s as if Governor Bill Lee and Commissioner Penny Schwinn are joining together and singing to Tennessee teachers:

“I want you, I need you, but there ain’t no way I’m ever gonna love you…”

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

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