‘Is that the right thing to do?’ Teacher pay increase to be discussed at special legislative session on education issues

Keeping Schools Safe

TENNESSEE (WJHL) – Education has been warped and changed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and the lives of teachers even more so. In Nashville, Tennessee legislators are eager to get to work on the special legislative session to address education issues.

Tennessee legislators during next Tuesday’s special session will discuss, among other topics, teacher pay.

“It’s came up in conversation that Gov. Bill Lee is considering proposing increasing teacher pay. Now, in light of record numbers of unemployment across the state, businesses that have had to close, shut down, alter operations, is it the right thing to do to increase teacher pay? I want the people to let me know,” TN Rep. Scotty Campbell (R) told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais. “Is that the right thing to do? When we have lots of people receiving unemployment, when we have an economy that’s had some rough spots because of COVID, is increasing government spending by increasing teacher pay the right thing to do during the pandemic?”

While lawmakers like Campbell want to hear more from their constituents on how to allocate budget funds this year, others think teacher pay should definitely be considered.

“My gut feeling: I would like to help teachers now, and we’ve had over collections to Tennessee’s budget so far in the first five months of our fiscal year, what I’d like to do is if those dollars continue to show a surplus, instead of adding to a salary, during this current year, I would like to start something as soon as the springtime – March and April – to put a one-time bonus into our teacher’s hands. It’s not a salary increase at this moment that had been promised last year before the pandemic hit, but I would like to see a substantial bonus hit teacher’s paychecks this calendar year, and even as soon as spring, I’d like to see that happen. Then when we go forward and set the budget for 2021-22 year, I think we can go back and look at that 3 to 4% increase in salaries for teachers that we had discussed last year before the pandemic hit,” TN Rep. David Hawk (R) said.

Hawk has worked on the Tennessee budget for eight years. That budgetary surplus can go toward teacher pay, he told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais.

“I think we can do a combination, potentially a one-time bonus this year – while we’re still in this fiscal year – and then a salary increase going forward,” he said.

Another issue that Hawk hopes to discuss at the special session is a stipend being offered to teachers, who go the extra mile.

“An additional pay supplement being offered to teachers who agree to teach summer school. We’re going to be discussing learning loss and the potential that some students may not be quite where they need to be to attain grade level, so I’m hopeful that part of the special session will include a summer school option much larger than we’ve ever seen before where we can open up our school buildings and give our teachers who want to come teach summer school an option and ability to get paid for their work this summer to help bring students up to grade level or at least help them improve from where they are currently,” he said.

In the Tennessee Senate, Sen. Jon Lundberg (R) of Sullivan County said teacher pay should be considered during the special session.

“I think we absolutely need to talk about teacher pay, address it. We had scheduled and planned on, last year, doing a rather significant pay increase and pulled that out because of the pandemic,” Lundberg said. “Those folks have got to be compensated, they are doing a yeoman’s job with a very difficult task, and I’m not being sarcastic, but I think you can even ask many parents and they have a new appreciation where they’ve done virtual learning of what their teachers go through.”

Political newcomer, Rep. Tim Hicks (R) of Tennessee House District 6 told News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais that he thinks Tennessee teachers deserve more pay because they are not earning enough as it is.

“It was in the budget to give teachers more money last year, and it got taken off because of COVID, so I think it’s time to raise teachers pay, I really do. I think that they do a great job and COVID has even made their job a whole lot harder to do, and I just really feel like it’s time that in Tennessee, and especially Northeast Tennessee, to bring our teacher’s pay up. Most of our adjoining states pay more. On average, for those states we’re about $10,000 down for teachers, so I think that’s really something that we’ve got to work on,” he said.

However, teacher pay is not the only topic to be discussed next week. The governor wants state legislators to meet on Jan. 19 to discuss these other key issues: learning loss, funding, accountability, and literacy.

“There’s no playbook in dealing with a pandemic, so we’ve going at this like it’s the first time, which it is,” Hawk added.

He said the Tennessee General Assembly still has a lot of work ahead. His colleagues agreed.

“We’re concerned if there’s any learning loss with students and how as a state, can we enact policy that’ll make up for that learning loss very quickly so that those students catch up, and frankly, get ahead of the curve as quickly as possible,” Sen. Lundberg said.

Accountability, Lundberg said, is a topic he looks forward to discussing.

“Holding teachers harmless for a year, and frankly, looking at ways for those teachers to be rewarded in some way for students that don’t have a significant learning loss,” he said. “Some people have said we shouldn’t test students, which I think is not a good idea because we need that data. We need to know what schools, what districts, what area those students of the state are doing very well, and why they’re doing well, so we can replicate that. Likewise, where somebody is doing really poorly – what are they doing, so that we can make certain we don’t replicate that.”

Literacy and accountability are topics Rep. Campbell is also eager to tackle.

“There are great concerns about English, actually, and some one-time federal funding to support a phonics-based approach which would ultimately help the districts of our state, the teachers as well as the families and students. Make sure that they have the tools and resources that they need in order to accomplish those goals,” he said. “The question of accountability is one that lingers in our minds and will be a major topic of discussion over the next week or so with the special session. There are a lot of questions about the best way to proceed: who tests, who doesn’t, and what accountability measures will be in place based on the experiences of the pandemic.”

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