The Struggle is Real

As Sumner County considers providing teachers with a $4000 pay raise for the 2020-21 academic year, teachers there have taken to Facebook to explain the struggles they face under current salary conditions. Here are some excerpts from a few of those stories:

I teach full time, sponsor an extracurricular that requires multiple hours outside of the regular school day, and I work another job two nights a week and on occasional weekends. Wow this is just eye opening that people believe teachers have the nicest of everything. My apartment was flooded this week, and I’m potentially looking at having to move back in with parents until I can afford to get a house. That comment has me completely baffled.

I’ve been teaching for 18 years. I have had a second job for 16 of those 18. As a single woman, I have had a roommate for the last 10 years because I can not afford to live on my own. I have lost a home in foreclosure in the last 10 years. I will be paying for my student loans well after retirement age (I have a bachelors and a masters). I still live paycheck to paycheck with no savings to speak of. I drive a car that is 12.5 years old and was not purchased new. Would I choose to be a teacher again if I knew these circumstances? Yes. God has called me to this profession. But it only seems fair that people who work tirelessly to make a difference in the lives of children should be treated as the professionals that they are and compensated as such. Oh yeah, and before I was a teacher, I was a missionary. I had to raise 100% of my support. When I left the mission field and began teaching, I took a shocking pay cut. .


It’s not only a struggle financially, it is a struggle mentally, physically, and emotionally on myself and my family. The fact that I am at school hours before school begins, ends, and on weekends is crazy. The fact that my kids don’t understand why mommy spends so much time away from them when school is “over”. The struggle comes when I am constantly looking and comparing my bank account to when the next payday is and wondering what else I can find in the pantry to feed my family until payday comes around. The struggle is when it’s 5pm on a Monday, and I need to leave the classroom, and get all of the kids and take them home to eat, but I still have so much work that needs to be done in order to give my students the best.


If many teachers are having to work other jobs, you should know they can not and will not be able to give their best to their students. I was tired before the day began and I couldn’t grade timely enough because of my other responsibilities. (Fun fact – it’s in our contracts to not work other jobs that could get in the way of our performance)
4) It should not be okay that we justify paying teachers poorly because most teachers are female and have husbands that could support the family. That is a stereotype that isn’t always true nor should it be acceptable. Teaching isn’t a hobby. We are professionals with high levels of education. I literally panicked if I had to buy clothing. And I didn’t buy more than maybe a shirt at a time from Target.
5) The financial strain and lack of support for teachers is what makes great teachers quit. I LOVEEEEEE the relationships I build with my students. That’s why I teach. But sometimes, you can be too overwhelmed to remember that.

There’s more — a lot more. And it’s not just in Sumner County, where starting pay for teachers is about $4000 less than in peer districts and lags behind throughout a teacher’s career.

Tennessee is a state that pays teachers poorly and experiences a high teacher wage gap.

Since it’s back to school time, it’s a great time to share your “teacher struggle story.”

What struggles do you face as a Tennessee teacher? Do you work a second or a third job to make ends meet? Tell your story: andy@tnedreport.com

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100% for Charters, 2.5% for Teachers

Tonight, Governor Bill Lee outlined his proposed budget for 2019-2020. Lee’s budget doubles the fund for charter school facilities to $12 million. This amounts to a benefit of $342 per student (there are roughly 35,000 Tennessee students in charter schools).

Meanwhile, he announced a meager improvement to teacher salaries of around 2% – $71 million. This amounts to $71 per student.

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.

As one Nashville teacher pointed out, Nashville – and the entire state — have a failed business plan:


I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Now, those are numbers for Nashville. Some teachers around the state have to teach for 10 years before they even hit $40,000. Still, the point is clear: The value proposition for teachers in our state is not very good. Unfortunately, Governor Lee’s first budget is not doing much to change that. It’s the status quo. A nominal increase that will likely not entirely make it into teacher paychecks.

Tennessee’s numbers when it comes to both investment in schools and educational attainment are disappointing. Continuing along the same path means we’ll keep getting the same results.

The bottom line: Money matters.

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A National Leader


According to a recent report, Tennessee’s education policies have resulted in our state becoming a national leader in at least one category. The Learning Policy Institute notes that Tennessee has the highest percentage of 1st- and 2nd-year teachers of any state in the nation. Nearly 20% of Tennessee’s teacher workforce is very new to the profession. That’s well above the national average of 12.7%. When that number is combined with the percentage of uncertified teachers (4.1%), the outlook is not good: Our schools are not retaining experienced teachers. The national average for classrooms staffed by uncertified teachers is 2.6%.

Check out the data:

 

 

Teacher compensation in Tennessee is certainly one factor playing into this challenge. Our teachers are paid 27.3% less than individuals in similarly trained professions. In fact, we have among the highest teacher wage gaps in the country.

Helpfully, the Learning Policy Institute offers some recommendations for improving this situation:

Service scholarships and student loan forgiveness:
The cost of high-quality teacher preparation is a significant obstacle to those considering entering the teaching profession. To overcome such barriers, at least 40 states have established service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs to recruit and retain high-quality teachers. These programs underwrite the cost of teacher preparation in exchange for a number of years of service in the profession. Research has found that effective service scholarship and loan forgiveness programs leverage greater recruitment into professional fields and locations where individuals are needed, and support retention.

High-retention pathways into teaching:
Teacher turnover is higher for those who enter the profession without adequate preparation. However, teachers often choose alternative certification pathways that omit student teaching and some coursework because, without financial aid, they cannot afford to be without an income for the time it takes to undergo teacher training. High-retention pathways are developed to subsidize the cost of teacher preparation and provide high-quality training for incoming teachers. These pathways include teacher residencies and Grow Your Own programs that recruit and prepare community members to teach in local school districts

Mentoring and induction for new teachers:
Evidence suggests that strong mentoring and induction for novice teachers can be a valuable strategy to retain new teachers and improve their effectiveness. Well-mentored beginning teachers are twice as likely to stay in teaching as those who do not receive mentoring. However, the number of states supporting mentoring and induction programs decreased during the recent recession, and a 2016 review of state policies found that just 16 states provide dedicated funding to support teacher induction. Under ESSA, states can leverage federal Title II, Part A funds to support new teacher induction and mentoring. Indeed, a number of states, including Delaware and Ohio, are taking such an approach. Other states have invested state funds to support new teacher induction, including Connecticut and Iowa.

High-quality school principals:
Principals play a central role in attracting and retaining talented teachers. Teachers cite principal support as one of the most important factors in their decision to stay in a school or in the profession. Therefore, states can benefit from building effective systems of preparation and professional development for school leaders. Title II, Part A of ESSA provides states with new opportunities to invest in and improve school leadership in ways that could increase teacher retention, including by reserving up to 3% of their state Title II, Part A funds for school leader development. Many states—including North Dakota and Tennessee—are seizing this opportunity, with nearly half of states using the optional 3% set aside and 21 states using ESSA funds to invest in principal preparation. The North Carolina Principal Fellows program is an example of a long-standing, successful state effort to support principal development.

Competitive compensation:
Not surprisingly, the lack of competitive compensation is one factor that frequently contributes to teacher shortages, affecting the quality and quantity of people planning to become teachers as well whether people decide to leave the teacher workforce. Even after adjusting for the shorter work year in teaching, beginning teachers nationally earn about 20% less than individuals with college degrees in other fields—a wage gap that widens to 30% by mid-career. Large inequities in teacher salaries among districts within the same labor market leave some high-need, under-resourced districts at a strong disadvantage in both hiring and retaining teachers. More competitive compensation can be a critical strategy to recruit and retain effective educators, although different approaches may be necessary depending on the state, regional, and district context.

Recruitment strategies to expand the pool of qualified educators:
In light of fiscal constraints, many states are also opting for low-cost policy solutions that expand the pool of qualified teachers. Such strategies include recruiting recently retired teachers back into the classroom to fill open positions and strengthening licensure reciprocity to ease undue burdens to cross-state mobility and allow experienced and accomplished educators the opportunity to seamlessly transition into service in a different state. Colorado, for example, is actively pursuing both strategies, and Idaho, Oklahoma, and West Virginia are also recruiting retired teachers to help address teacher shortages.

Tennessee should certainly move forward with a serious effort to improve teacher compensation as well as an early career mentoring/induction program. Coupling these two items with meaningful new investments in our schools could make both coming to and staying in teacher a more attractive proposition in our state.

Until then, it’s likely we’ll continue to see teachers leave the profession at higher than the national rate. We simply haven’t been committed to investing in our teachers and it shows.

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Will Bill Lee Get Serious About Teacher Pay?


New Tennessee Governor Bill Lee is expected to layout his first spending proposal for the state in late February, with a State of the State Address planned for early March. First, he’s holding hearings to learn from state departments about current expenditures and needs/desires going forward.

Yesterday, he heard from the Department of Education and indicated that improving teacher pay would be among his priorities, though he didn’t offer any specifics.

First, let’s be clear: Our state has the money available to make a significant investment in teacher pay.

TEA identifies more than $800 million in revenue from budget cycles dating back to 2015 that could be invested in schools. Additionally, there’s an estimated surplus of $200 million and new internet sales tax revenue of $200 million.

Next, let’s admit we have a crisis on our hands. Tennessee teachers are paid bargain basement prices and the situation is getting dire:

Tennessee has consistently under-funded schools while foregoing revenue and offering huge local and state tax incentives to Amazon.

In fact, while telling teachers significant raises were “unaffordable” last year, Metro Nashville somehow found millions to lure an Amazon hub to the city. This despite a long-building crisis in teacher pay in the city. Combine a city with low pay for teachers with a state government reluctant to invest in salaries, and you have a pretty low value proposition for teachers in our state.

Now, let’s talk about why this problem persists. It’s because our school funding formula, the BEP, is broken:

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%.

To be clear, those are 2014 numbers. So, let’s update a little. Now, the state pays 70% of $44,430.12, or roughly $31,000 per teacher generated by the BEP formula. But, the actual average cost of a teacher is $53,000. So, districts come up $22,000 short in their quest to stretch state dollars to meet salary needs. Of course, districts are also responsible for 100% of the cost of any teachers hired beyond the BEP generated number. Every single district in the state hires MORE teachers than the BEP generates. Here’s more on that:

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.

Chalkbeat notes another challenge of getting money into teacher paychecks:

Under Haslam, the state increased allocations for teacher pay the last three years, but the money hasn’t always reached their paychecks. That’s because districts have discretion on how to invest state funding for instructional needs if they already pay their teachers the state’s average weighted annual salary of $45,038.

There are, of course, some clear solutions to these challenges. These solutions have yet to be tried. Mainly because they cost money and our political leaders have so far lacked the will to prioritize a meaningful investment in our teaching force. Here’s an outline of how those solutions might work:

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.

My guess? Bill Lee won’t propose either of these solutions. That doesn’t mean a legislator can’t or won’t — though it hasn’t happened so far.

Stay tuned for late February, when we’ll see what Bill Lee means when he says he’s committed to improving teacher pay.

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When are Teacher Strikes Coming to Tennessee?


Teachers working for substandard wages. Students attending school in trailers because of overcrowding. A lack of school counselors, nurses, and support staff. A funding shortfall of around $1 billion.

Yes, these conditions all describe Tennessee. But the story reporting on them is about schools in our neighboring state of Virginia.

Here’s more of what’s happening next door:

Just a few miles away from the moldy trailers of McLean high school is the proposed site of on Amazon’s new headquarters in Crystal City, Virginia, right across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial. The influx of new residents to northern Virginia attracted by Amazon is only likely to expand the trailer parks sitting outside of many northern Virginia schools.

While Virginia’s Democratic governor Ralph Northam is proposing to increase education funding by $269m, he has proposed to spend nearly three times as much, $750m, to lure Amazon to northern Virginia. The offer was made to secure Amazon’s “HQ2” – the tech company’s second headquarters which it split between Virginia and a second – equally controversial – site in Long Island City, New York.

Teachers are pushing back and now are going out in the first statewide teachers’ strikes in Virginia’s history.

Sound familiar?

It should.

Tennessee has consistently under-funded schools while foregoing revenue and offering huge local and state tax incentives to Amazon.

In fact, while telling teachers significant raises were “unaffordable” last year, Metro Nashville somehow found millions to lure an Amazon hub to the city. This despite a long-building crisis in teacher pay in the city. Combine a city with low pay for teachers with a state government reluctant to invest in salaries, and you have a pretty low value proposition for teachers in our state.

In fact, some teachers are openly expressing concern and highlighting our state’s failed business plan:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

Teachers in West Virginia, Arizona, Oklahoma, Kentucky, and Los Angeles have experienced some level of success in recent strikes. Teachers in Virginia were on strike today. These strikes have earned the support of parents and community members and have yielded tangible results both in terms of new investments in schools and increased political power for teachers.

Here in Tennessee, however, teachers have yet to strike. In fact, it’s difficult to find serious discussion of a strike. Sure, our investment in schools is less now than when Bill Haslam took over ($67 less per student in inflation-adjusted dollars). And yes, our teachers earn among the lowest salaries in the region with no significant improvement in recent years. Oh, and our own Comptroller says we’re at least $500 million short of what we need to adequately fund schools. A closer look at what the state’s BEP Committee leaves out reveals that number is very likely $1 billion.

So, when will Tennessee teachers strike?

Or, are the conditions that are unacceptable in so many places across the country just fine for our schools here in Tennessee?

If you’re a teacher and you have thoughts on striking, I’d love to hear from you: andy@tnedreport.com

 

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A Failed Business Plan


Nashville teacher JH Rogen offers a Twitter thread on the entirely predictable teacher pay crisis facing Nashville (and, frankly, the rest of Tennessee). It starts like this:

I’m starting a business and looking for workers. The work is intense, so the workers should be highly skilled. Experience preferred. Starting salary is 40k with the opportunity to get all the way to 65k after 25 years of staying in the same position. See how dumb that sounds?

 

He adds:

You say: talking about salary shows an ignorance towards the economic situation many of our kids come from. I say: offering salaries so low that kids have classrooms run by computers instead of functional adults shows an ignorance towards what it takes to create great schools.

 

Read it all. Think about it.

Nashville offers relatively low salaries to teachers in a state that trails the region and the nation in teacher pay. The value proposition for teachers in our state is low. We offer bargain basement salaries to educators and then demand more and more from them.

Is that a recipe for success? Does it demonstrate that we put our children first?

Think about it.

We hear all the time that “kids matter” and we should worry about the concerns of the students in the room rather than the adults. But the adults are sending a clear message: Schools don’t matter. The teachers don’t matter. It’s not important to pay those who are entrusted with the care and education of our children a reasonable salary.

Do you think the kids haven’t noticed?

They have and they do.

Will anything change?

Maybe if there’s a strike. At least for a little while. But how long would a strike go on until teachers were told to get back to class “for the kids?” Meanwhile, the policymakers sit back in comfort and refuse to make so-called “tough decisions” that should be easy.

It should be easy to pay teachers a living wage and to invest in and support schools. But instead, our policy leaders play games and hope we don’t notice.

It WOULD be easy to pay teachers a living wage if our leaders — our policymakers really wanted to do that. But they don’t. Because the adults who elect them haven’t insisted on it. Because it doesn’t matter.

Yes, the kids in the schools are watching. They see what’s happening.

The message is clear.

 

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


 

 

 

Bargain Prices on Teachers in Tennessee


Two years ago, I wrote about the teacher wage gap in Tennessee — the fact that teachers in Tennessee earned nearly 30% less than similarly prepared professionals. Now, the Economic Policy Institute has updated their study of teacher pay relative to other professions.

Guess what?

Tennessee teachers still come at bargain basement prices!

While there is some (slightly) encouraging news, the bottom line: Teacher pay in Tennessee is still not really improving relative to other professions.

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.

That said, Tennessee’s gap is still worse than the national average and among the worst in the Southeast.

Of 12 Southeastern states, Tennessee ranks 8th in teacher pay gap — that’s up one place from 9th two years ago.

Here are the numbers:

Mississippi                   18.9%

South Carolina            20.5%

West Virginia              21.2%

Louisiana                     23.5%

Arkansas                      24.3%

Kentucky                     24.6%

Florida                         25.7%

Tennessee              27.3%

Georgia                       29%

Alabama                     29.4%

Virginia                      33.6%

North Carolina         35.5%

 

Yes, the authors acknowledge that teacher benefit packages tend to be more generous than those offered other professionals. By their analysis, teachers have a benefits package that is a bit more than 7% more generous than similar professionals. The most expensive of these benefits is healthcare, followed by defined-benefit pensions.

Tennessee teacher healthcare benefits vary by district, but for the purpose of this discussion, we’ll assume that Tennessee teachers receive the national average benefits advantage.

Doing so means Tennessee teachers are still paid 20% less than similarly-trained professionals.

While some progress on this front is better than none at all, continuing down this road is not sustainable. Investing in teachers by providing compensation on par with other professions requiring similar education and training is essential to recruitment and retention.

Tennessee’s next Governor and the General Assembly sworn-in in January of 2019 should move past studying the issue and get to work finding long-term solutions to close this gap and pay our teachers the salaries they deserve.

 

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A Nashville Teacher Speaks Out


MNPS teacher Amanda Kail last night delivered a speech to the School Board detailing the needs of teachers in terms of compensation and support.

Here’s the full text of her remarks:

Good evening ladies and gentlemen of the board. My name is Amanda Kail, and I am an MNPS teacher.

I am here today as part of the #Red4Ed movement that began in West Virginia, and has since spread to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, and now Nashville. In our city, teachers across the district have joined together by wearing red on Tuesdays. We are doing this for 2 reasons: First, to show that we are united in our desire to see our district fully-funded, and second, because we are no longer content to sit back and donate our own money and time to subsidize what state and local officials won’t fund. So we plan to be at BOE and Metro Council meetings on Tuesdays, keeping track of votes and demanding change.

We find our current situation intolerable. Our district is ranked 12th in the state for average wages, yet we have one of the highest costs of living in the state. It takes a teacher with a Masters Degree 11 years to earn $50,000. We have lost vital staffing positions like the psychologists and social workers that keep our students OUT of the school-to-prison pipeline. Our schools are enduring painful cuts to the very resources and programs that support our students social-emotional well-being the most: arts and music, after school programs, and field trips. Maplewood needs its auto shop reopened.

I would also like to say that teachers not only have been subsidizing the district by donating our labor at sub-standard wages, we have been subsidizing the needs of our students and families. Like many teachers, I have fed, clothed, taken to the hospital, paid prison fees, and paid for the funerals of my students.

We say this is intolerable, but we are not content just to complain. We are here to demand change. Because by joining #Red4Ed, we join teachers across the country in becoming warriors for the dignity of our profession, and for the needs of our students and their families.

To that end, we are asking you to do what you can within the powers of your office.

The compensation committee will meet tomorrow to begin the process of recommending raises for teachers. We ask you to join us by making the work of the compensation committee a priority, and immediately begin working with Metro Council for a short-term plan for the 2019-20 budget to include 5% raises for faculty and staff, along with step raises, and a long-term plan to increase wages by a minimum of 5% every year until MNPS ranks in the top 50% of The Council of the Great City Schools. We also demand a revision to the salary schedule that allows teachers to reach competitive salaries in a reasonable amount of time.

Second, BOE shift priorities from increased pay for outside vendors and top administrators to affording the men and women on the ground who are actually doing the work of educating our city’s children (because honestly, right now the city can’t afford us).

Do right by Nashville’s families. Start the process to fully fund #ItCitySchools NOW.

 

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Graphs!


I’ve written a lot about school funding and teacher pay in Tennessee. About how our state pays teachers at a discount rate and hasn’t really been improving that much.

Now, I’ve found a couple of helpful graphs to demonstrate that in spite of all the rhetoric you might hear from Governor Haslam and some legislators, Tennessee still has a long way to go in order to be making proper investments in our schools.

First, we’ll look at per pupil spending in inflation-adjusted (2016) dollars:

To translate, in 2010 (the year before Bill Haslam became Governor), Tennessee spent an average of $8877 per student in 2016 dollars. In 2016 (the most recent data cited), that total was $8810. So, we’re effectively spending slightly less per student now than in 2010. The graph indicates that Tennessee spending per student isn’t really growing, instead it is stagnating. Further evidence can be found in noting that in 2014, Tennessee ranked 43rd in the nation in spending per student. In 2015, that ranking dropped to 44th. 2016? Still 44th.

Here’s the graph that shows per pupil spending by state for 2016:

Tennessee is near the bottom. The data shows we’re not improving. At least not faster than other states. I’ve written about how we’re not the fastest-improving in teacher pay, in spite of Bill Haslam’s promise to make it so:

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.

School spending doesn’t happen in a vacuum — it’s not like when Tennessee spends, other states stop. So, to catch up, we have to do more. Or, we have to decide that remaining 43rd or 44th in investment per student is where we should be.

 

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Mike’s Misnomer


State Representative Mike Sparks feels like Tennessee teachers are adequately paid. In fact, he’s so sure of this fact, he wants a website to demonstrate the generous pay teachers in our state receive.

Michelle Willard in the Murfreesboro Voice has more:

“It seems like there’s a misnomer out there that teachers are very low paid,” Sparks said at the State House Education and Planning Subcommittee

Sparks was promoting a bill to require teacher salaries to be posted online.

Here’s the thing: Districts already post pay scales online.

Also, the state sets minimum pay standards — and they are, in fact, pretty low. The current state pay scale indicates a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and no experience must earn a starting salary of at least $33,745. Put in 10 years and your minimum jumps up to $40,595. And, that’s it! If you have a bachelor’s degree and 10 or more years of experience, your district is not required to pay you anymore than just over $40,000.

Now, most districts offer pay that exceeds the state minimum. In some cases, though, it’s not by much. Further, the state’s BEP Review Committee (the group that studies and reports on the school funding formula) notes a pretty steady gap of around 40% between the highest and lowest paying districts in the state.

When that gap hit 45% percent back in the early 2000s, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that school funding in our state was unconstitutional because it was not substantially equal across districts.

Sparks is also apparently not concerned that Tennessee teachers earn about 30% less than comparably educated professionals. He would do well to take some time and understand the deeper issues in our state’s funding formula — namely, that it’s not exactly adequate and that it continues to foster inequality across districts.

Instead of seeking solutions, Sparks wants to let Tennesseans in on the secret of just how much teachers are paid. Those of us actually paying attention already know – it’s not nearly enough and it’s not getting better.

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