Trade Your Pension for Better Pay?

That’s one proposal made by the Nashville Chamber of Commerce in its Report Card on Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS).

The idea is that if new teachers forego their pension, they could take the savings in higher pay. The Chamber believes that higher pay would help the district attract teachers and encourage them to stay in the district once hired.

An analysis of teacher pay across similar districts found Nashville to lag behind its peers in terms of both starting pay and lifetime earnings.

While raising teacher pay certainly has merit in terms of both attracting talent and keeping teachers in the system, it’s important to look at the tradeoff between pensions and salaries.

Under the current pension system (recently revised) Tennessee teachers are eligible to retire with full pension benefits after they reach a combined number of 90 in years of service and age. That means a teacher who starts at 22 would need to teach until they are 56 in order to retire with full pension benefits.

At current salary levels, a teacher would sacrifice a pension benefit of around $25,000 per year. Factoring an average life expectancy, a teacher who decided to give up her pension would lose benefits totaling $625,000.

That means to make up the actual dollar value of the pension benefit, teachers would need to make about $18,000 more per year than they do now. Again, this assumes retirement after 34 years.

At current levels, this would move starting pay in MNPS to around $59,000 per year.

Alternatively, the district could make starting pay a bit lower and build in larger raises later. That may have the benefit of encouraging teachers to stay. To be competitive, starting pay should probably be raised to around $50,000. Again, though, if teachers are foregoing a $625,000 potential benefit, raises should be built-in to ensure they can earn that benefit over the course of their service.

While the Chamber may be correct that younger teachers are not necessarily as concerned with pensions as those in the past, it should be made clear that giving up a pension is a big financial sacrifice in the long-term. If such an idea is pursued, teachers should certainly be compensated at a level that makes up for that sacrifice over time.

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

 

When 4=2

In preparation for next year’s TNReady exams, it seems the Department of Education is already using some new math. While the General Assembly appropriated a $100 million increase in teacher compensation, an amount equivalent to a 4% raise, the Department is recommending that the State Board of Education adjust the state’s minimum salary schedule by only 2%.

Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen revealed the proposed recommendation in an email to Directors of Schools:

Directors,

Tennessee law requires the commissioner of education to present annually to the State Board of Education a state minimum salary schedule for the upcoming school year. Historically, the board has adopted the schedule at its regular July meeting after the conclusion of the legislative session and the adoption of the state budget. This year, in response to district communication and feedback, the board will consider the issue at a specially called meeting set for June 9.

The FY 16 state budget includes more than $100 million in improvements for teacher salaries and represents a four percent improvement to the salary component of the Basic Education Program (BEP). Because the BEP is a funding plan and not a spending plan, the $100 million represents a pool of resources from which each district will utilize its portion to meet its unique needs. The structural change in the state salary schedule in July 2013 recognized this inherent flexibility in the BEP by lessening the rigid and strict emphasis on years of experience and degrees and providing more opportunity for districts to design compensation plans based on a number of factors. At the same time, while recognizing the value, appeal and need for maximum flexibility, the state board has stressed the desire to improve teacher compensation, particularly minimum salaries, and Gov. Haslam has outlined his goal for Tennessee to be the fastest improving state in teacher compensation.

Considering this background information as well as feedback from districts and in an effort to provide districts with as much information as possible as early as possible, we want to inform you today that the department will propose increasing the base salary identified in the state minimum salary schedule from $30,876 to $31,500. This represents a two percent adjustment and will impact the other six cells on the state schedule accordingly. For example, the current minimum for a Bachelor’s Degree and 6-10 years of experience is the BASE SALARY + $3,190 or $34,066 (BASE of $30,876 + $3,190). The proposed minimum for the 2014-15 school year for this same cell will be $34,690, which represents the new recommended BASE SALARY of $31,500 + $3,190.

We believe this proposal strikes the right balance between maximum flexibility for school districts and the recognized need to improve minimum salaries in the state. For the large majority of districts, the proposal does not result in any mandatory impact as most local salary schedules already exceed the proposed minimums. For these districts, the salary funds must still be used for compensation but no mandatory adjustments to local schedules exist.

The current state salary schedule can be viewed here for a determination as to how your particular district may be impacted.

Two years ago, the state adopted a new salary schedule at the recommendation of then-Commissioner Kevin Huffman. This schedule gutted the previous 20 step schedule that rewarded teachers for their years of experience and acknowledged the work of earning advanced degrees. Historically, when the General Assembly appropriated funds for a raise, the Commissioner of Education recommended the state minimum salary schedule be adjusted by the percentage represented by the appropriation. So, if the General Assembly increased BEP salary appropriations by 2%, the State Board would raise the state minimum salary schedule by 2%.

This adjustment did not necessarily mean a 2% raise on teacher’s total compensation, because many local districts supplemented teacher salaries beyond the state required minimum. The 2% increase, then, was on the state portion of salaries. Some districts would add funds in some years to ensure their teachers got a full 2%, for example. And in other cases, they’d only get the increase on the state portion. Still, under the old pay scale, teacher salary increases roughly tracked the appropriation by the General Assembly.

Here’s a breakdown of average teacher salary increases compared with BEP increases in years prior to the new salary schedule:

FY                     BEP Salary Increase                     Actual Avg. Pay Increase

2011                  1.6%                                                 1.4%

2012                 2.0%                                                2.0%

2013                2.5%                                                 2.2%

These numbers indicate a trend of average teacher pay increases tracking the state’s BEP increase. In FY 2014, however, immediately after the state adopted a new pay scale designed to build in flexibility and promote merit pay, the General Assembly appropriated funds for a 1.5% salary increase and average teacher pay increased 0.5% — teachers saw 1/3 of the raise, on average, that was intended by the General Assembly.

Why did this happen?

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. These add-ons are not fully contemplated by the BEP. And, under the old pay scale, the local district was responsible for meeting the obligation of the pay raise for these teachers on their own. The BEP funds sent to the district only covered the BEP generated teachers. And then, only at 70% of the salary. Now, the district was free to use BEP salary funds to cover compensation expenses previously picked up by local funds.

Instead of addressing the underlying problem and either 1) increasing the base salary used to calculate BEP teacher salary funds or 2) increasing the state match from 70% to 75% or 3) doing both, the state decided to add local “flexibility.”

To be clear, increasing the base salary for BEP funds to the state average would cost $500 million and increasing the state BEP salary match would cost $150 million — neither is a cheap option.

But because every single system operates at a funding level beyond the BEP generated dollar amount, it seems clear that an improvement to the BEP is needed. Changing the BEP allocation to more accurately reflect the number of teachers systems need to operate would improve the financial position of districts, allowing them to direct salary increase monies to salaries.

An additional challenge can be found in Response to Intervention and Instruction — RTI2. While the state mandates that districts provide this enrichment service to students, the state provides no funds for RTI2’s implementation. Done well, RTI2 can have positive impacts on students and on the overall educational environment in a school. Because there is no state funding dedicated to RTI2, however, districts are using their new BEP funds for salary to hire specialists focused on this program.

Here’s the deal: 19 Tennessee school districts pay teachers at levels that mean they’ll have to raise teacher pay if the State Board makes the recommended 2% adjustment. To be clear, the minimum salary a first year teacher can make anywhere in Tennessee is currently $30,876. That will increase to $31,500 if the Board adopts McQueen’s recommendation. Because the 2% only applies to the base number and the other steps increase by a flat amount, a teacher with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years of experience will go from a mandated minimum of $37,461 to $38,085.  That’s only 1.67%.

And let’s look at that again: The minimum mandated salary for a teacher in Tennessee with a bachelor’s degree and 11 or more years experience will now be $38,085.

That’s unacceptable.

Instead, policymakers should:

  • Set the minimum salary for a first-year teacher at $40,000 and create a pay scale with significant raises at 5 years (first year a TN teacher is tenure eligible), 10 years, and 20 years along with reasonable step increases in between
  • Fund the BEP salary component at 75%
  • Adjust the BEP to more accurately account for the number of teachers a district needs
  • Fully fund RTI2 including adding a BEP component for Intervention Specialists
  • Adopt the BEP Review Committee’s recommendations on professional development and mentoring so teachers get the early support and ongoing growth they need

The policy reality is those districts at or near the state minimum are the poorest and least able to stretch beyond state funds. Following the proposed recommendation may well serve to exacerbate an already inequitable funding situation.

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

Teacher Groups Respond to Haslam Raise Proposal

After Governor Bill Haslam addressed education, and specifically, raises for teachers last night, groups representing teachers responded with cautious optimism.

The Tennessee Education Association noted that they have been advocating for a six percent raise in order to restore teacher pay to 2010 levels and provide a slight raise. Four percent moves in the right direction, the group said. TEA also noted that Haslam is addressing revenue issues by proposing a revenue modernization act to create a level playing field between Tennessee businesses and multi-state corporations.

For their part, Professional Educators of Tennessee applauded the efforts on salary and raised concerns about the Governor’s plan to provide liability insurance.

Here’s the statement from TEA:

Just two months after TEA called for a six percent state raise for teachers, Gov. Bill Haslam announced he would propose a four percent increase in the budget. The total earmarked for raises totals approximately $100 million, and would be the largest pay increase in more than a decade.
At four percent, the average Tennessee teacher pay increase would be approximately $2,000 annually, not including step raises.
“The governor’s proposal to putting these funds into teacher salaries is a great first step to fulfilling his promise to make Tennessee the fastest improving in teacher salaries. Now it is our job to make sure this raise stays in the budget,” said TEA president Barbara Gray.
Last year a two percent teacher raise was cut from the budget when corporate excise taxes—a tax on profits—dropped unexpectedly. TEA has been working to find fixes for the holes in the corporate excise tax and other revenue problems in order to increase investment in schools and improve educator salaries. The Haslam administration is now on the same page.
“After presenting our budget last year, there was a sharp decline in revenue collections, and we weren’t able to do some of the things we initially proposed in the budget,” Haslam told a joint session of the General Assembly on February 9. “Most of the drop was in our business tax collections. We’ve spent a lot of time working internally and with outside experts to analyze what happened.” Haslam wants the General Assembly to create the “Revenue Modernization Act” that would close some loopholes used by multi-state companies and level the playing field for Tennessee-based businesses.
“In order for us to ensure raises actually get passed this go round, every teacher needs to be ready for the fight on revenue. We never want repeated what happened last year,” said Jim Wrye, TEA Director of Government Relations. “And we should not stop at just four percent. If revenue continues to rebound, we should add more funding to salaries. There is a reason we asked for six percent, and that is the lack of raises most teachers have had in the past two years.”
Last year there was no raise. In 2013-14, most teachers did not receive the 1.5 percent raise passed by the General Assembly due to the gutting of the State Minimum Salary Schedule by the State Board of Education at the request of then commissioner of education Kevin Huffman.
“Increasing salaries in the state budget is our number one priority. Without a state raise, most teachers won’t see an increase. We’ll work on it every day of the session,” said Wrye.
The large figure for teacher salary increases proposed by the governor was a strong first step. There are also critical budget areas TEA is working on, including health insurance costs, classroom supply money, and pay equity funds that need to be added to the state budget. TEA is the only organization in the statehouse working to find revenue for education funding, and is ready to assist the administration in their goal.
“The increase really shows that the governor is listening to teachers and beginning to understand the economic hardships they have been facing. It is an encouraging start to a new legislative session to see the administration working hard to find a way to support our hardworking educators,” said Gray. “To attract and retain the best teachers, it is crucial that Tennessee stay competitive with neighboring states in teacher pay, something we have been unable to do in recent years.”
Here’s the statement from PET:
We always welcome a focus on education by our policymakers, especially when they engage stakeholders in the process.

Governor Haslam and Commissioner McQueen have started on a good foot this session by reaching out to us.  We must bridge the gap between policy and practice.  This will require bold, sustained leadership and input from classroom educators.

We have worked hard together on teacher salaries, and I am very pleased with the result. We hope the Governor stays the course this year.  Teachers have worked hard and deserve to be recognized and compensated for their efforts. We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts.

We do not support the Governor’s  proposal to provide liability insurance.  While his intentions may be noble, Tennesseans know insurance provided by the private sector is always preferable to government run insurance like InsureTeach. We would prefer that he work to address frivolous lawsuits and protect teachers.

You never want anyone who has any interest in the outcome of a liability claim, whatever that interest may be,to also be the one to administer the program.  We would ask policymakers to save the $5 million and move those dollars into salaries.

We do appreciate his open dialogue and hope we can continue the discussion moving forward.

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

 

 

Will Haslam Raise Teacher Pay?

He’s not saying.

Yet.

Blake Farmer over at WPLN has the story.

Basically, both Haslam and incoming Commissioner of Education Candice McQueen say they are committed to improving teacher pay, but make no commitment about a specific raise this year.

Haslam does think he should be given credit for giving teachers raises early in his term, though.

Here’s what he said:

“What gets lost in there is we were one of the few states, in our first three budgets, who actually did give teachers raises,” Haslam said in an interview with WPLN.

What he failed to mention is that Tennessee ranks near the bottom in the nation in rate of improvement of teacher pay as well as total teacher compensation. And the disparity among districts in terms of teacher pay is reaching proportions previously rule unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court.

In short, a failure to address both the level of teacher pay and the resources provided to schools could result in more than just angry teachers. Some are even beginning to suggest a school funding lawsuit is in order.

Will 2015 be the year Bill Haslam makes a serious attempt to both improve teacher pay and provide needed resources to Tennessee schools?

He just won’t say.

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

Little Value Added?

 

That’s the conclusion teacher Jon Alfuth draws about Governor Bill Haslam’s recently announced changes to teacher evaluation and support.

Alfuth notes with frustration that Haslam appears happy to support teachers in ways that don’t involve any new money.

Reducing the weight given TVAAS on a teacher’s evaluation, for example, doesn’t cost anything. Adding a few teachers to a “cabinet” to give feedback on tests is welcome change, but also doesn’t carry a price tag.

Haslam’s changes still unfairly assess teachers in non-tested subjects, in Alfuth’s view:

While reducing the percentage from 25 to 15 percent achievement data for non-EOC teachers is a step in the right direction, I don’t feel that it goes far enough. I personally think it’s unfair to use test scores from courses not taught by a teacher in their evaluation given the concerns surrounding the reliability of these data systems overall.

And, Alfuth says, the financial support teachers and schools need is simply not discussed:

Consider the teacher salary discussion we’ve been having here in Tennessee. This is something that Tennessee Teachers have been clamoring for and which the governor promised but then went back on this past spring. There’s no mention of other initiatives that would require extra funding, such as BEP2.0, which would provide millions of additional dollars to our school districts across the state and do much to help teachers. There’s also no mention of expanding training Common Core trainng, which is essential if we’re going to continue to enable teachers to be successful when the three year phase in of growth scores winds down.

In short, while the proposed changes are step forward, at least in the view of one teacher, much more can be done to truly support teachers and their students.

More on the importance of investing in teacher pay:

Notes on Teacher Pay

More on the state’s broken school funding formula, the BEP:

A BEP Lawsuit?

The Broken BEP

What is BEP 2.0?

For more from Jon Alfuth and education issues in Memphis, follow @BluffCityEd

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

TEA Calls on Haslam to Deliver on Teacher Pay Promise

The Tennessee Education Association is asking Governor Haslam and the General Assembly to give teachers a 6% raise in the next session of the General Assembly. The association says it is Haslam’s chance to deliver on his promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.

The group suggests that revenue is available, as sales tax collections continue to improve. Additionally, the group notes that closing corporate tax loopholes could stop losses in Franchise and Excise tax collections and allow for investment in teacher salaries.

From a press release:

The Tennessee Education Association today called on Governor Bill Haslam to fulfill his October 2013 promise to make Tennessee the “fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay.” The call comes just days before Haslam conducts his first budget hearing for the Department of Education.

“Governor Haslam has said he intends to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in the nation in terms of teacher pay,” said TEA Executive Director Carolyn Crowder. “Teachers are eagerly anticipating his budget hearing on Friday to see if he will start living up to that promise.”

State teacher salaries have remained flat since 2011, Haslam’s first year in office, when compared with the Consumer Price Index.

“When you factor in rising insurance premiums, some Tennessee teachers’ salaries are worth less now than they were when Haslam took office,” Crowder continued. “We are hopeful that the governor will rectify this situation and include a desperately needed raise in his proposed budget.”

TEA is asking Haslam and the Tennessee General Assembly to ultimately increase the state’s BEP funding for teacher salaries from $40,000 to $45,000 per BEP-generated teacher. Based on 2014 salary numbers, that would be a net increase to the average teacher’s salary of 11.3 percent.

“We’re not asking for this to happen all at once, but we are asking for the governor to get serious about investing in our teachers. The povertization of the teaching profession in Tennessee must stop,” Crowder said.

TEA’s proposal would mean a 6 percent increase in pay this year, with the remainder of the increase to be phased in over two to three years.

Crowder notes that many teachers didn’t get a raise this year or last, while inflation and classroom supplies coming out of teachers’ pockets have hit family budgets hard.

“Six percent is fair and critical, helping us break even with inflation because of stagnation at the state level and gets us on the road to becoming the fastest-improving state in the nation in teacher pay.”

By building the pay increase into the BEP formula, local school systems would receive additional financial support from the state.

“This proposal represents an investment in our state’s teachers and their students, but it also represents an investment in communities across Tennessee struggling to meet their budgets. We’re simply asking Governor Haslam to honor his promises and make investing in public schools a priority.”

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

Haslam: Paying Teachers More “Might Be a Good Idea”

Roughly a year after Governor Bill Haslam promised to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in teacher pay, he now seems uncertain about the idea. In a recent story in the Tennessean about a conflict between legislative Democrats and Haslam on Pre-K expansion, Haslam said:

“The key is like everything else: ‘Should we do Pre-k?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ ‘Should we pay teachers more?’ ‘It might be a good idea.’ I could keep going with that list. It’s more a question of, given the reality of a limited budget that we have and are always going to have, should that be a priority for funding?”

This certainly doesn’t sound like a leader who is planning to move forward on improving teacher pay anytime soon. This in spite of early indicators that doing so may well be fiscally viable.

 

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

From 40th to 1st?

Around this time last year, Governor Haslam stated his intention to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher salaries. He even tweeted it: “Teachers are the key to classroom success and we’re seeing real progress.  We want to be the fastest improving state in teacher salaries.”

And, at the Governor’s request, the BEP Review Committee included in its annual report the note:

The BEP Review Committee supports Governor Haslam’s goal of becoming the fastest improving state in teacher salaries during his time in office…

Of course, Haslam wasn’t able to pay the first installment on that promise. Teachers then and since then have expressed disappointment.

But, what does it mean to be the fastest improving? How is Tennessee doing now?

Well, according to a recent report by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center, Tennessee ranks 40th in average teacher pay and 40th in teacher salary improvement over the past 10 years.

That means we have a long way to go to become the fastest improving state in the nation. Bill Haslam will certainly be re-elected in November. And that means he has about 5 years left in office. What’s his plan to take Tennessee from 40th in teacher salary improvement to 1st in just 5 years?

Does it even matter?

Yes. Teacher compensation matters. As the ARCC report notes, Tennessee has a long history of teacher compensation experiments that typically fizzle out once the money gets tight or a new idea gains traction.

But the report points to a more pressing problem: A teacher shortage. Specifically, the report states:

Since 2009, Tennessee has identified shortages in the overall numbers of K-12 teachers needed for public schools as well as teachers for specific subjects. There is a critical need in the state for STEM teachers, as well as shortages in high school English, social studies, world languages, Pre-K through high school special education, and English as a second language.

So, we face a teacher shortage in key areas at the same time we are 40th in both average teacher pay and in improvement in salaries over time. Jon Alfuth over at Bluff City Ed notes that a recent analysis of teaching climate ranked Tennessee 41st in the nation. Not exactly great news.

Moreover, an analysis by researchers at the London School of Economics notes that raising teacher pay correlates to increased student achievement.

The point is, Bill Haslam has the right goal in mind. Tennessee should absolutely be aiming to improve teacher salaries and do it quickly. The question remains: What’s his plan to make that happen?

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

“Tennessee Solution” a Viable Option?

Back in April, when Governor Haslam betrayed teachers and state employees and took their proposed pay increase out of his budget, a bipartisan group of legislators proposed what they then called the Tennessee Solution.

The plan had a price tag of $90 million and used reserve funds to pay out a one time bonus to teachers and state employees. The plan also called for a 1% raise to be provided only if state revenues exceeded budgeted targets.

By doing so, the plan put money in the pockets of teachers (essentially delivering a portion of Haslam’s promise) and also offered hope of more funds should the state find the money. Essentially, it said that if there is extra money, the first priority for those funds should be our teachers.

Ultimately, Haslam’s forces prevailed and that idea was rejected.

Now, there’s news that August revenues were far above projections. More than $30 million ahead, to be specific. The increase is due to the highest sales tax collections in more than two years. And, despite a negative growth number for non-corporate taxes, collections there were $6.1 million over budget.

If this type of revenue growth continues, delivering on the Tennessee Solution would be very doable. Except that the legislature decided against it at Haslam’s urging.

Yes, it’s still early in the revenue cycle, but making education a priority was the right thing to do in April and early revenue numbers show it fiscally feasible as well.

Next up, tomorrow’s Education Summit in Nashville. Where Haslam and friends should be talking about how best to use any unexpected revenue growth to invest in Tennessee’s public schools.

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

No thank you, Mr. Haslam

On August 14th, Governor Bill Haslam sent a “Welcome Back” letter to teachers across the state. In the letter, he thanked teachers for their hard work in helping Tennessee improve its student achievement scores. He said he appreciated what they did for Tennessee students every day.

Apparently, some teachers haven’t forgotten that this is the same Bill Haslam who promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in the nation in teacher pay in October of 2013 and included a teacher pay raise in his 2014 budget address … only to break that promise in April.

Some teachers sent responses directly back to Haslam. And some of those same teachers sent their responses to TN Ed Report under the condition we keep their names anonymous.  Here are some of the responses we received:

Teacher Response #1:

I appreciate your attempt to understand the inner workings of a classroom and appreciate your words of appreciation for those of us who chose to serve others through teaching. However, I am highly disappointed at the turn of events in which you announced that teachers would not receive pay raises. We already make much less than other TN State employees and much less than teachers of other states.

It is easy to make promises and to break them:
http://tnreport.com/2013/10/04/raising-teacher-pay-a-top-budget-concern-for-haslam-administration/   

I am personally insulted in your lack of support for the teaching profession. My colleagues and I work hard for the families we serve. A normal day for most of us is  7:45 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. Though we are only paid to work 8:00 until 3:15, our jobs cannot be completed in those hours. Many times we take student work home with us and are constantly looking for ways to improve our teaching on our own time.

Teachers are generally told “no one teaches for the money”. TRUE, but teachers never expected to be put on the “budget cutting” chopping block each time raises are considered. We feel betrayed with popular campaign promises and rhetoric.

In closing, make no mistake that our hard work is not completed for you or any elected official. Our hard work is for the children we PROMISED to educate when we accepted our jobs. Your letter of appreciation proves that WE have not failed those who have put their trust
in us, including you.

Teacher Response #2

Please tell the PR firm that suggested you send these letters that we teachers are
well educated and therefore insulted that they would believe a letter full of
empty words could ever make up for what you and your administration have done
and are doing to ensure the destruction of public education in Tennessee.

Teaching is more than a job to me. Teaching is my calling. I sincerely love all of my
students and work tirelessly for them. I most often work six full days a week
to ensure that they have exactly what they need to succeed. I spend hundreds
sometimes more than a thousand dollars of my own limited income every year to
make sure that their needs are met. I was always proud to be a teacher but, not
so much these days. Mostly these days my heart aches for my children. I spend many
hours crying for them. Your administration has stripped our classrooms of all
joy. Teacher morale is low because we are working in hostile conditions.

Finally, please keep your empty words. This letter is too little, too late.

Teacher Response #3

I am in receipt of your letter of August 14, 2014.
 
I appreciate the welcome back to school. And it is nice to hear the words “thank you.”
 
In your letter, you note that Tennessee is the fastest improving state in the nation in terms of student achievement. You attribute this success directly to teachers.
 
I seem to remember that in October of 2013, you also promised to make Tennessee the fastest improving state in teacher pay — an acknowledgement of the hard work so many Tennessee teachers are doing every single day.
 
Your budget, proposed in early 2014, also indicated at least a nominal raise for teachers was forthcoming.
 
Then, in April, you abandoned that promise.  When the state revenue picture changed, the budget was balanced on the backs of teachers. Not only did your new budget take away promised raises for teachers, but it also reduced BEP funding coming to school districts. Now, teachers are being asked to do more with less.  And students suffer.
 
Your words ring hollow when your actions make it clear that teachers don’t matter. That our schools can wait just one more year for the resources students need to succeed.
 
As for your “thank you” for the work I do, I’d note that I can’t send it to the bank to pay my mortgage. A thank you isn’t going to fix my car when it needs repair. When the price of groceries goes up, I can’t simply use your thank you letter to cover the increase. And when my health insurance premium inevitably rises in January, your letter won’t put money back in my paycheck to cover the cost.
 
The raise you promised but failed to deliver would have helped with all of these things. But your letter does nothing but remind me that you say nice words and shortchange our schools.
 
In my classroom, I place a high value on integrity. That means doing what you say you’re going to do. On that scale, sir, you rate an F.
We received copies of other responses that mentioned the poor communication style of Commissioner of Education Kevin Huffman and the loss of collective bargaining rights. While teachers may not have a viable alternative to Haslam on the ballot in November, those sending us copies of their responses made it clear they won’t be supporting Haslam.
For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport