Make that 2%

In Governor Bill Lee’s initial budget address, he proposed a 4% adjustment to the BEP salary component (effectively a 2% raise for teachers). Now, in the face of the coronavirus threat, his revised budget adjusts that to a 2% increase. That effectively means most teachers will see a raise of less than 1% or, in many cases, no raise at all.

Here’s the budget amendment.

It reduces the BEP inflationary adjustment and cuts in half the initial proposed increase in the teacher salary component. It also completely deletes the charter school slush fund.

Also, according to Chalkbeat, the budget proposal retains $37 million to fund the first year of Lee’s voucher scheme:


Lee retained $37 million for education savings accounts, a controversial program set to start this fall to let eligible families in Memphis and Nashville use taxpayer money to pay for private school tuition.

Meanwhile, the proposal adds significantly to the Rainy Day fund.

Yes, instead of using the state’s billions in reserves to keep schools and other services moving forward, this budget proposal actually ADDS to the rainy day fund while cutting improvements to teacher pay.

It’s up to the General Assembly to approve this measure, of course, but there’s little indication Lee’s moves will be challenged.

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Hamilton County Teachers Win 2.5% Raise

Teachers in Hamilton County won approval of a 2.5% pay hike, according to the Chattanooga Times-Free Press.


The Board of Education voted unanimously in favor of the 2.5% raise proposed earlier this month by Superintendent Bryan Johnson at its meeting Thursday night — the same night the board approved a new contract and a raise for Johnson.


The mid-year raise, which is effective retroactively as of Feb. 8, is possible thanks to $3 million in savings during the first half of the fiscal year, according to district officials.

The move comes even as some lawmakers are focusing on ways to improve Gov. Bill Lee’s proposed 4% increase to the state’s share of BEP money dedicated to teachers.

Meanwhile, Nashville school board members are calling on the state to dramatically increase investment in schools.

For the second year in a row, Lee has proposed doubling a state slush fund for charter schools while offering only a small increase in teacher compensation. In fact, one study indicates teachers in Tennessee are paid at a lower rate (when accounting for inflation) than they were back in 2009.

After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

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Why Teacher Pay Matters

Sure, it seems obvious that raising teacher pay makes a difference. But, it’s nice to have some evidence to back that claim up. Especially in a state where teachers now earn 4.4% less than they did back in 2009.

We Are Teachers has put together a list of six benefits of boosting teacher pay. Here are some highlights:


A majority (76%) of responders to a TIME poll said they agreed that many people won’t go into teaching because it doesn’t pay enough. This means fewer graduates of teacher education programs, and fewer teachers looking to fill the increase in demand for teachers.


Unsurprisingly, teacher pay has been shown to reduce turnover (which, in turn, increases student performance). Turnover is about 16% each year, and around 8% of teachers annually leave the profession entirely as opposed to moving to another school.


For example, a study in San Francisco found that when the salary for teaching was increased, the size and quality of teacher applicants increased.


Teachers are 30% more likely than non-teachers to have a second job. It goes without saying that raising teacher pay so teachers didn’t have to work a second job would boost teacher morale and help them stay focused on their classrooms.


In some states, teacher salaries are so low that teachers routinely qualify for public benefits like food stamps or public health care programs (like children’s health insurance programs). This is especially true for teachers who are the primary breadwinner in their family or have large families.


When teachers get paid more, students do better. In one study, a 10% increase in teacher pay was estimated to produce a 5 to 10% increase in student performance. Teacher pay also has long-term benefits for students. A 10% increase in per-pupil spending for each of the 12 years of education results in students completing more education, having 7% higher wages, and having a reduced rate of adult poverty. These benefits are even greater for families who are in poverty.

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Party like it’s 2009

Tennessee teachers may want to hop in the wayback machine in order to see a bigger paycheck. That’s according to data released by the Sycamore Institute that indicates that teachers in Tennessee now earn about $2400 less per year than they did in 2009.

Here’s more from the group’s analysis of Governor Lee’s 2020-21 budget:


Between FY 2016 and FY 2020, lawmakers enacted a total of $429 million in recurring increases for teacher pay. Since that time, growth in Tennessee teachers’ average pay has begun to catch up with inflation. After adjusting for inflation, however, teachers’ average pay during the 2018-2019 school year was still about 4.4% lower than a decade earlier.

To approach the salaries teachers enjoyed all the way back in 2009, the General Assembly would need to add roughly $100 million to Lee’s proposed increase for this year. That’s entirely doable, as the state has enjoyed multiple years of surplus revenue. That is, we can significantly raise teacher pay AND not raise taxes.

Of course, adding $100 million would only mean our teachers are BACK to the 2009 level. To make a real improvement, we’d need to at least double that number. Does Tennessee have more than $300 million available to commit to teacher pay? YES! It’s now up to the General Assembly to decide whether or not to make this investment.

Adjusting pay in this way could mean an average increase in teacher pay of just under $4000 for every teacher in Tennessee.

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Faison Pushing for Teacher Pay Raise

House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison of Cosby has indicated he’ll be pushing for a significant pay raise for Tennessee teachers when the legislature reconvenes in 2020. WJHL has more:


“Our teachers are some of the hardest-worked people in Tennessee and I definitely see a raise coming in,” says House Republican Caucus Chair Jeremy Faison who was voted into the leadership position this past August.


Few doubt the K-12 teachers’ low pay compared to other states, but Representative Faison says the issue is especially acute in those districts away from urban areas.


“Our teachers in rural Tennessee are struggling,” said Faison in a recent interview. “If you are a single parent and you are a teacher and you have two kids, that’s like poverty wages.”

A recent analysis indicates that over the last 10 years, Tennessee has seen inflation-adjusted revenue growth of 7%. Over that same time period, teacher pay is down by 2.6%. That’s not surprising, given that Tennessee receives an “F” on a rating of funding effort for schools according to the Education Law Center.

In fact, Think Tennessee highlighted two important numbers relative to school funding in our state:

So, we’ve got some work to do — both in teacher pay and in overall investment in schools.

Back in 2014, I wrote about the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP. The fact is, it’s still broken today. The solution propose then would also work now:


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.

The state should absolutely make a significant investment in teacher pay in 2020. We can afford it, with billions of dollars in surpluses coming in over the last five years. Frankly, we can’t afford NOT to do it. Ignoring the problem will just further exacerbate a growing teacher shortage.


For the past five years Tennessee has been running huge revenue surpluses as education needs go unmet. Over this five-year span the state collected nearly $3 billion more in general fund revenue than it anticipated. Last year alone the state general fund had a $580 million surplus. These are millions that could have gone to classrooms. 

Combining an improvement in teacher pay at a level of 5% or more with a move toward full funding of BEP 2.0 (a cost of some $500 million) would go a long way toward giving Tennessee teachers both the pay and resources they need. We have the money. The only question is will lawmakers like Faison find the collective political will to make the investment.

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A Tennessee Story from North Carolina

A North Carolina teacher wrote her state representative recently to express frustration over low pay and the cost of living. The email, which has gained attention as part of an ongoing budget fight in the state, could just as easily have been written by a Tennessee teacher. It is published below as Butler provided it, without identifying the specific teacher by name:

…a local teacher here in Brunswick County, North Carolina.  I wanted to express my concern and frustration over the requirements and qualifications required for any form of public assistance.  I realize that there are large amounts of families that are in tight financial situations but I am having difficulty with the fact that as a state employee who works extremely hard every day and I am not able to receive help.  I am a single mom with zero support from my child’s father. He has been unable to be located and works under the table so I cannot track his employment. I have been denied any form of help, from Medicaid for my daughter to food stamps and childcare vouchers.  I understand that I am employed and I am thankful for this every day but when I submit my information to try to get any assistance, I am denied because my Gross amount of pay is utilized, rather than my take home pay. According to my paycheck, I make $4,840 a month.  This is not accurate. I have to take into consideration that I only get paid 10 times a year and therefore I have set up at Summer Cash account through SECU to help save money for the months I am not paid in the Summer. I take out $600 from each paycheck for that amount which leaves me with $4,240.  I also have supplemental insurances to help cover emergencies since I am the only income for my family. This costs $440.32 a month. I am now at $3,799 a month. Then I have to take into account that I have state, federal, retirement, social security, and medicare taken from my paycheck for the amount of $1,070.89.  I am now bringing home $2,728.79. With my take home pay, I have monthly bills that I have to pay. I pay $975 a month in rent, $130 in utilities, my phone bill is $143, car insurance is $100, insurance for my daughters health and dental is $84. I have student loan payments at $336 a month. I have personal loan payments each month from trying to cover months that I was extremely in debt.  These total $393. I have to pay day care each week at $90 a week so on average that is $405. I am at $162.79 left. I also have credit card payments each month that cost $156.00. I have $6.79 left in my bank account to now cover gas, groceries, and miscellaneous items that always arise. I am currently in debt from not being able to pay all of my bills each month. I am $504 in debt to one student loan company and $672 to another.  My bank account currently sits at $0.64. I have another week before payday.

If you would so willing to help explain to me what I can do about this I would greatly appreciate it.  I am trying extremely hard each month to make it day to day. I often go without food in order to make sure that my daughter is provided for.  I depend on the charity of friends to help cook me dinner with leftovers since they know how hard I am struggling. I have sold off everything I can in my household to try to supplement my income and I try to pick up babysitting jobs or tutoring to make ends meet.  I am asking for your help as my local representative with this. I know I am not the only teacher in this situation. I realize that some strides are being taken to help with teacher pay but I need help now. If I would be able to get any kind of assistance I would be more than grateful.

If you are a Tennessee teacher with a similar story you’d like to share, you can email andy@tnedreport.com and I’ll help tell your story — anonymity is always protected.

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18%

Groups representing teachers in Memphis are seeking a salary increase of up to 18%, according to a story in Chalkbeat:


Shelby County Schools teachers would be able to earn up to $86,000 annually under the highest of three proposals from the district’s two teacher associations.

That would be 18% more than the current maximum salary of $73,000.
The associations want up to a 16% boost to the district’s $43,000 minimum salary for new teachers. But Cheronda Thompson, who represented United Education Association of Shelby County, said increasing the maximum is more important.
“It’s not about how we start, it’s about how we finish,” she said during negotiations Friday afternoon. “We want to retain people. They already start good.”

The move comes as districts like Nashville struggle with teacher retention and pay significantly less than other urban districts. Additionally, suburban districts like Sumner County have moved to make meaningful improvements to teacher pay.

Teacher pay is a national crisis, but particularly problematic in Tennessee, as Chalkbeat notes:

Research shows that teachers make the most difference in a student’s academic success, but districts nationwide are struggling to recruit and retain effective educators. An often cited reason is salary, especially in states like Tennessee where the average teacher salary trails both regional and national numbers.

It’s worth noting that Governor Bill Lee has done nothing to address the teacher pay crisis, and in fact has worked to divert funds to voucher schemes and charter schools.

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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

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

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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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