money matters

Jeffco teachers would get pay raises under tentative agreement

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
A packed room in 2014 as the Jefferson County school board and its staff developed a new pay model for teachers.

Officials from Jeffco Public Schools have agreed to $19.5 million in pay increases for teachers next year.

Under the plan, employees who have “demonstrated effective performance,” will receive a step increase. Step increases are salary raises given after completing a year of work, and dependent on years in the district. Teachers who are effective and have earned graduate-level credits will receive a “level increase.” Districts officials said they could not immediately answer whether teachers could get both.

And all employees covered under the contract will get a cost-of-living increase of 1 percent, or 2 percent if state funding permits.

The agreement, reached this week, still has to be ratified by the teacher’s union members and then the school board must vote to approve it.

The Jeffco school board directed staff months ago to find a way to increase competitive pay for teachers. A tax increase request from the district that voters turned down in November would have included $12 million for salary increases, but after that was defeated, staff proposed a series of budget cuts that would free up funding for the salary increases.

Board members ultimately voted on a scaled back proposal of cuts after the superintendent at the last minute said the district could, for now, use $9 million in retirement savings and $11 million in reductions from central staff to pay for salary increases.

“We are pleased at the collaborative efforts that went into this agreement,” Ron Mitchell, the school board president, said in a statement. “One of our board goals has been to make our salaries more competitive. Though we have limited resources, this agreement demonstrates our commitment to our teachers and should help us be more competitive in today’s market. We have had to tighten our belts, but we’ve been able to accomplish this without making serious cuts to programs that directly impact our students.”

Jeffco staff has told the school board that the district’s salaries are competitive in some cases, but not for mid-career teachers. Staff and principals detailed concerns that experienced teachers were leaving the district.

According to state turnover data, Jeffco’s teacher turnover rate this year is just over 14 percent. That was an increase over last year but but still well below turnover rates in districts such as Denver, Westminster, Aurora and Douglas County.

Also as part of the $19.5 million agreement, experienced teachers new to Jeffco will be compensated for up to six years of experience, up from a maximum of five years now.

Teacher Pay

Every Tennessee teacher will make at least $33,745 under new salary schedule

PHOTO: Patrick Wall

Some teachers in 46 Tennessee districts will see a pay boost next year after the State Board of Education voted Wednesday to raise the minimum salary for educators across the state.

The unanimous vote raises the minimum pay from $32,445 to $33,745, or an increase of 4 percent. The minimum salary is the lowest that a district can pay its teachers, and usually applies to new educators.

The boost under the new schedule won’t affect most Tennessee districts, including the largest ones in Memphis, Nashville, Knoxville and Chattanooga — where teacher salaries already exceed the state minimum. (You can see the list of districts impacted here.)

The state’s largest teachers union lauded the increase, which will be funded under the state’s 2017-18 budget under Gov. Bill Haslam.

“Teachers statewide are increasingly struggling to support their own families on the stagnant wages of a public school teacher,” said Barbara Gray, president of the Tennessee Education Association. “It is unacceptable for teachers to have to choose between the profession they love and their ability to keep the lights on at home or send their own children to college.”

Tennessee is one of 17 states that use salary schedules to dictate minimum teacher pay, according to a 2016 analysis by the Education Commission of the States. In that analysis, Tennessee ranked 10th out of 17 on starting pay.

The 4 percent raise is a step toward addressing a nationwide issue: the widening gap in teacher wages. On average, teachers earn just 77 percent of what other college graduates earn, according to a 2016 study from the Economic Policy Institute. Tennessee ranks 40th in that study, with its teachers earning 70 percent in comparison to other graduates.

View the Economic Policy Institute’s data in full: 

vying for vouchers

Grilled by lawmakers, Betsy DeVos says voucher rules should be set locally — even if some kids are shut out

U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos testifying Wednesday.

Betsy DeVos faced tough questions Wednesday from lawmakers on whether private schools in voucher programs would be allowed to exclude students, including LGBT students and students with disabilities.

The budget plan the Trump administration released this week asks for $250 million to fund pilot programs that would use public funds to pay tuition for students at private schools. Those voucher programs are a focus of U.S. Education Secretary DeVos, who has said they are critical for helping low-income families who need more good choices for educating their children.

The budget is unlikely to be enacted by Congress, but it’s put more attention on a key aspect of how these voucher programs work: outside of the public school system and without the same rules for accountability and access.

Rep. Katherine Clark, a Massachusetts Democrat, asked DeVos about a Christian school in Indiana that participates in that state’s voucher program and whose handbook says students may be denied admission if they have a gay family member.

“If Indiana applies for this federal funding, would you stand up that this school be open to all students?” Clark asked. “Is there a line for you on state flexibility?”

“For states that have programs that allow parents to make choices, they set up the rules around that,” DeVos responded.

“So that’s a no,” Clark said.

DeVos noted that the education department’s Office of Civil Rights would continue its work. All private schools are prohibited from discriminating on the basis of race or national origin, but they can discriminate based on sexual orientation — in fact, no voucher program in the country prohibits participating schools from discriminating against LGBT students.

Private schools may also be able to deny admission to students with disabilities. DeVos herself visited Providence Cristo Rey High School in Indianapolis on Tuesday, a Catholic school that participates in Indiana’s voucher program and whose admissions website warns that it has “limited ability to offer services” for students with disabilities.

Some voucher programs are designed specifically for those students. In turn, those students typically give up some or all of their rights under IDEA.

Rep. Mark Pocan, a Wisconsin Democrat, challenged DeVos on whether new voucher programs would actually help needy students with few options. In Milwaukee, home to the country’s longest-running voucher program, Pocan noted that many voucher recipients already attended a private school and came from wealthy families.

“The 28,000 students that are attending school by the choice of their parents in Milwaukee — that is a success for those students,” DeVos responded. “Those parents have decided that’s the right place for their children to be.”

Pocan mentioned recent studies out of Indiana, Louisiana, Ohio, and Washington, D.C. showing that students using vouchers lose ground on standardized tests after attending private schools. (“I think you were asked recently about this and I know you were on your way out and didn’t have a chance to answer, so I’m glad that today we’ve got a chance to ask some of these questions,” he said.)

Pocan said his experience had led him to conclude that Wisconsin’s school voucher programs had failed. However, research on Milwaukee’s voucher program found it has had a positive effect on students’ likelihood of attending and staying in college.

Pocan also asked DeVos about how any new voucher programs that used federal dollars would be held accountable for their success. DeVos responded by discussing the responsibility of each state to craft accountability rules under ESSA, the new federal education law, which private schools are generally not subject to.