Tennessee’s Haslam Promises $100 Million for Teacher Raises

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Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam received a standing ovation when he announced in his fifth State of the State address that $100 million will be allotted for teacher pay raises next year.

The governor said that the state wants to recruit, hire, and retain the best and brightest educators, and the best way to do that is by paying teachers well, relays The Tennessean’s Dave Boucher. Tennessee teachers unions are cautiously optimistic; they were in this same place at this same time last year. Then, Haslam announced a 2% across-the-board raise and a pledge to  make Tennessee the “fastest-improving state in the nation when it comes to teacher pay. That plan did not happen, however, because of a $160 million budget gap based on poor tax collections.

“In the end, it all depends on revenues coming in. I feel much more confident this year than last year that we’ll meet our revenue projections, but again, when revenues drop, things change,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, said after Haslam’s speech. “We’re not like Washington. We can’t just borrow and keep on going.”

Haslam is under pressure to make it happen since he did not get his health care reform plan, Insure Tennessee, past lawmakers, and riling teachers unions by breaking his promise again concerning pay raises would mean a political grade of “F.”

The Southern Standard says the governor is also funding the state’s school-funding formula, or BEP, the formula the state uses for funding schools, with $44 million. Haslam and state financial officers say that the revenue outlook for next year is promising. The teacher pay raises are overdue having remained stagnate since 2011, the first year of Haslam’s time in office. The Tennessee Education Association, the largest teachers union in the state, has been advocating for an increase, and Jim Wrye, TEA’s assistant executive director, says he is happy to see Haslam taking action.

“I think every teacher in the state wants to see the governor’s dream come true, in that we are the fastest improving in teacher salaries in the nation,” Wrye said. “We look forward to working with the administration and the General Assembly to see the governor’s vision becomes a reality.”

The governor has not forgotten the institutions of higher learning in the state. There will be a $25 million investment in the funding formula for Tennessee’s colleges and universities and $20 million to increase faculty salaries. Education was the major focus of the governor’s address, according to Michelle Heron of WRCB-TV, Chatanooga. He reminded listeners that getting education right in Tennessee is the most important task for the state.

The governor is proposing nearly $170 million for K-12 education as well to”give Tennessee kids a bright future.” The governor also highlighted the Tennessee Promise program that provides two years of tuition-free education at a community or technical college for those who apply. About 58,000 high school seniors have applied for the program, reports WVLT-TV, Nashville, along with information from the Associated Press, and 9,200 interested parties have signed up to be mentors in the program.