Beating Alabama

Governor Haslam gave his State of the State Monday and outlined budget priorities. Immediately, the Tennessee Education Association called on the General Assembly to improve on the small raise Haslam proposed for teachers.

Here’s the deal: A few years back, Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay. That very same budget year, Haslam’s actual budget included no new money for teacher compensation. Since then, however, his budgets have included back-to-back four percent increases in funds for teacher compensation. This year, however, the budget proposal is for a more modest two percent increase. Should this budget pass as proposed, Haslam’s education budgets will have resulted in average annual increases in funds for teacher pay of about two percent. That’s not much faster growth than surrounding states. In fact, during Haslam’s term of office, actual teacher pay in Tennessee has increased by about one percent per year, very similar to rates in Kentucky, Georgia, and Alabama.

Here’s what’s interesting: Tennessee teachers still earn about $3000 less on average than their counterparts in Georgia and Kentucky. But, our teachers are actually closing in on Alabama. Current numbers suggest Tennessee teachers earn about $300 less on average than Alabama teachers.

Of course, Alabama will pass a budget this year, too. And, it will likely include additional funds for teacher pay. But, if Haslam and the General Assembly were to double the amount of money allocated for increases in teacher compensation in this year’s budget, Tennessee would almost certainly overtake Alabama in average teacher pay.

Can we afford it? The short answer is yes! Revenue has been growing at about 5% this year when comparing year-over-year numbers. If that keeps up, we’ll see about $700 million in new revenue. Sure, some of that is allocated, but moving around $55 million to bump the teacher pay raise from two to four percent shouldn’t be that difficult. And, if we do it, Tennessee will beat Alabama.

I’ve lived in Tennessee almost 20 years now. If there’s one thing I know about my fellow Tennesseans it’s that we love to beat Alabama. Come on, Tennessee General Assembly. You can do it! You can help Tennessee beat Alabama.

Watch out, Kentucky and Georgia, you COULD be next!

 

 

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


 

Tennessee Solution?

In response to Governor Bill Haslam’s betrayal of his promise to improve teacher pay, a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the House is proposing a series of budget amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.”

The plan costs $90 million and provides teachers and state employees a one-time bonus and adds a 1% raise to that bonus if state revenues reach certain targets.

Here are some details provided by the Tennessee Education Association:

Amendments to the governor’s budget plan will be presented this Thursday. The bipartisan plan includes a raise and bonus for teachers. Please contact your legislators immediately to show support for this plan.
The governor’s proposed changes to the budget – including the removal of his promised raise to teachers – passed both the House and Senate Finance committees yesterday. It is scheduled for floor votes this Thursday. Please contact your legislators immediately to ask for their support of the plan to reinstate the pay increase for teachers and state employees.

The bipartisan group of House legislators plan to propose two amendments they are calling the “Tennessee Solution.” The amendments include the following:

  • One percent raise for teachers and state employees, contingent upon revenue collection. A portion of the raise will be included in the current budget to be paid-out if and when revenue numbers reach the total required amount for the raise. 
  • One-time bonus for teachers and state employees, possibly for employees with three or more years of service

 

While it seems unlikely the raise portion of the plan will be met unless underlying revenue concerns are addressed, the plan does provide a one-time bonus that would, at least for this budget cycle, boost teacher and state employee pay.

A more ambitious plan would have addressed long-term revenue concerns and/or provided for cuts in other departments in order to fund investments in education.

As the plan details became available, the House broke into Caucus meetings with Republican leadership stressing that the conservative stance was to oppose the “Tennessee Solution” and support the betrayal of Tennessee’s teachers and state workers.

A vote on the proposed amendments is expected Thursday.

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

Prioritizing Education

Gov. Bill Haslam tweeted on October 3, 2013: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

The first hint that being fast-improving might take some time came in the Governor’s 2014 budget presentation, when he proposed a 2% pay raise for the state’s teachers.  By way of comparison, Kentucky’s Governor also proposed a 2% raise for his state’s teachers. It’s tough to be the fastest improving when you move at the same rate as your competition.  It’s like being down 40-30 at halftime of a basketball game.  Then, in the second half, you match the other team and score 40 points.  You end up losing 80-70.  To be fastest-improving, you have to score more points, but maybe Haslam’s not a sports fan.

Then, comes yesterday’s news that Haslam’s budget is facing trouble because state revenues are down.  So, surely he’s going to focus on keeping those all-important teacher raises and commitment to K-12 education, right? Wrong.  Haslam is balancing the state budget by denying promised raises to teachers and state employees and ditching his proposed increases to higher education. What’s worse, Haslam’s Commissioner of Education convinced the state Board of Education to mandate that Tennessee school districts adopt differentiated pay scales.  The 2% increase in salary money available to districts was to help them meet this goal.  Now, the districts still face the mandate but will lack the state support to make truly meaningful change.

Below Mississippi? The Tennessee Education Association was quick to jump on the proposed cuts as unacceptable.  Citing research by the National Education Association, the TEA notes in a press release that Tennessee will now invest less per student than Mississippi.  According to the research, Tennessee’s per pupil investment is 45th in the nation and below every neighboring state but North Carolina. TEA President Gera Summerford said, “In order to attract and retain the best teachers, it is critical that the state properly fund teacher salaries.”

Where’d the Money Go? Governor Haslam blames the $160 million hole in the budget on lower than expected corporate taxes.  However, no mention is made of the $46 million in lost revenue from a 1/2 cent decrease in the state portion of the sales tax on food.  While removing or reducing the sales tax on food is a laudable goal, doing so without finding revenue to replace it is irresponsible.  The sales tax on food is the most reliable portion of state revenue. Additional revenue is lost by the gradual phase out of Tennessee’s estate tax, previously impacting estates over $1 million.  The plan is to phase that out entirely by 2016, with an estimated revenue loss of around $30 million this year and around $97 million in 2016-17’s budget. So, that’s roughly $76 million, or close to half of the projected shortfall for the upcoming budget cycle. To his credit, Haslam says he wants to hold off on efforts to repeal the Hall tax on investment income – a tax paid by a small number of wealthy Tennesseans with investment income.  However, he has also said reducing or eliminating the Hall tax is a goal. Phasing out the tax, as proposed in legislation under consideration this year at the General Assembly, would mean a loss of $20 million in the 2015-16 budget year and an ultimate loss in state funds of $160 million a year and in local revenue of $86 million a year.

Other options? It’s not clear, what, if any other options were considered.  In Kentucky, Governor Steve Beshear proposed a budget that included 5% cuts to most state departments while raising teacher pay and increasing investment in K-12 education. So, while his state faces a tight budget situation and difficult choices, he chose to put forward a budget that increased spending on public education and invested in Kentucky’s teachers, who are already better paid than Tennessee’s. The Kentucky General Assembly passed a version of that budget this week. Tennessee’s General Assembly may make changes to Governor Haslam’s proposals, of course. But it’s difficult to claim that Bill Haslam is putting education first.  Of course, that tweet back in October could also have been a set up for a rather cruel April Fool’s Day joke.   For more on Tennessee education politics and policy, follow @TNEdReport