Priorities

Last week, Gov. Bill announced a 37% salary increase for new correctional officers hired by the Tennessee Department of Correction (TDOC). The move makes the starting salary for a Tennessee correctional officer $44,500.

This is a needed improvement to the salary of hard-working state employees with a difficult job.

In announcing the move, Lee said:

“As we face staffing shortages across the country, rewarding officers with competitive pay will ensure we recruit and retain the most highly qualified individuals in our workforce,” said Gov. Lee. “These Tennesseans play a crucial role in ensuring public safety and we remain committed to valuing their important work.”

What’s interesting about the move is that Tennessee is also facing a teacher shortage and yet there has been no serious discussion by Lee or other state education policy leaders on dramatically increasing teacher pay.

The current state minimum salary schedule for teachers sets the minimum salary for a Tennessee teacher at $38,000.

A Tennessee teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to work for 10 years in order to achieve a mandated minimum salary above $44,000.

Now, however, brand new correctional officers will earn more than teachers with 10 years of experience. Yes, corrections officers deserve a raise.

But, it is a clear statement of priorities that Gov. Lee made this move – raising pay for corrections officers – before making any serious move to raise teacher pay. Even as Lee discusses a new education funding formula, he has not yet committed to any significant, dramatic increase in teacher salaries.

Tennessee has a significant budget surplus – $3 billion or more – and so can afford to raise pay for state employees and teachers without raising taxes a single penny.

Teachers, parents, and Tennessee communities are still waiting for Lee to put education first. Last week’s announcement continues to underscore where education falls on Lee’s list of priorities.

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

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