Teacher Pay

Haslam proposes teacher pay raises, urges ‘full speed ahead’ on education agenda

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam delivers his 2015 State of the State address, in which he proposed allocating a 4 percent pay raise for Tennessee teachers.

Resurrecting last year’s promise to make Tennessee the fastest-improving state in teacher compensation, Gov. Bill Haslam unveiled a budget plan Monday evening that earmarks almost $98 million for teacher raises, which could amount to up to a 4 percent raise.

In all, he proposes spending $170 million more for K-12 education, including nearly $44 million to account for growth in the state’s Basic Education Program (BEP) formula, designed to ensure equitable state funding to local school districts.

“There is nothing more important to our state than getting education right,” Haslam told lawmakers during his State of the State address before a joint session of the Tennessee General Assembly.

“While other states are cutting K-12 education, Tennessee continues to be one of the few states in the country to make significant investments,” he said, noting that Tennessee K-12 spending has increased at a rate more than double the national average during the last four years.

If approved by lawmakers, Haslam’s $33.3 billion budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 would more than double what he recommended for teacher raises last year, which ultimately didn’t come to fruition due to a revenue shortfall. The funding increase would equate to a 4 percent increase in the state’s contribution to teacher salaries – an impact that still would vary across the state because teachers are paid through a combination of state and local funding.

“We know that a big part of success is to have a great teacher leading every classroom. Just like with state employees, we want to recruit, retain and reward the best and brightest educators,” said Haslam, who also set aside $5 million to pay for liability insurance for teachers at no cost.

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA), Tennessee’s largest teacher union, welcomed the news, saying in a news release that “this proposed pay increase is a strong first step in treating teachers right.”

J.C. Bowman, who heads the Professional Educators of Tennessee, agreed that the raise was a positive step, but expressed concern that financially strapped districts ultimately could allot the money as they choose. “We are somewhat concerned that it might not reach classroom teachers, if strictly left to districts,” he said.

With state legislative leaders as the backdrop, Haslam talks about his vision for education in Tennessee.
With state legislative leaders as the backdrop, Haslam talks about his vision for education in Tennessee.

In his 27-minute address, Haslam also suggested to lawmakers that Tennessee should stick with the Common Core State Standards – although he never mentioned them by name — at least through the current legislative session. He said he is open to “reasonable” changes to teacher evaluations.

Whether the legislature makes Haslam’s vision a reality remains to be seen. The first bill that directly counters his plan —to repeal the Common Core State Standards before Haslam’s review process is complete — is scheduled for debate Wednesday in a House subcommittee. The conversation about education policy in Tennessee already has been marked by a steady rise in opposition to Common Core and, to a lesser extent, testing and the use of tests in teacher evaluations.

But Haslam urged lawmakers not to go backwards. “I truly believe that getting education right is critical to the well-being of our state – today and in the future. We have to keep going full speed ahead,” he said.

Here’s a breakdown of Haslam’s other proposals:

Drive to 55:  Two years ago, Haslam announced an initiative to increase the number of Tennesseans with college degrees from 32 percent to 55 percent by 2025. Much of his latest proposals would expand college opportunities for those already out of the K-12 system, including scholarships for adults to attend community college. (As of this year, recent high school graduates can attend two years of community college for free through the Tennessee Promise program.) He also proposed spending $2.5 million on sustaining Seamless Alignment and Integrated Learning Support, or SAILS, an effort by the state Department of Education and community colleges to help high school seniors with low ACT scores better prepare for college math courses, so they don’t have to take remedial courses after completing high school. Haslam said the program, which has served more than 8,000 students since it started two years ago, has saved families $6.5 million in community college tuition.

Standards: Haslam defined academic standards as “foundational skills that students should know at different grade levels” — a nod to confusion about the impact of standards in Tennessee and across the nation. “To me, it doesn’t really matter what we call our standards,” he said, referencing what he’s called Common Core’s “ruined brand”. “What does matter is that we have the highest standards possible.”

In speaking with thousands of educators over the last four years, Haslam said teachers are tired of being treated like a political football. “We have to give our educators more stability and certainty in their classrooms and not change the game on them session after session,” he said. He also urged Tennesseans to visit the 3-month-old standards review website, which already has received nearly 82,000 comments. “I think it is important that we know exactly what the standards are that we’re talking about and possibly voting on,” he said.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen listens to Haslam's agenda for the state.
Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen listens to Haslam’s agenda for the state.

Teacher evaluations: Haslam didn’t give specifics on changes to teacher evaluations but said he was open to “reasonable changes.” Under his purview, teacher evaluations — which are tied to decisions on payment and employment status — have become contingent on student test scores, prompting criticism from professional educator groups. In December, he proposed decreasing the weight of test scores while the state transitions to a new assessment, which many teachers considered a positive step, but not enough.

Bowman is optimistic that, with the help of Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen, Haslam will revamp the evaluation process for teachers of non-tested subjects, many of whom currently are evaluated in part on the performance of students they don’t teach. The TEA recently filed a lawsuit on behalf of teachers of non-tested subjects.

Assessments: Haslam identified assessments, along with teacher evaluations and standards, as one of the three most-discussed K-12 educational issues in Tennessee, but didn’t dwell on tests for long. He repeated a promise that Tennessee’s new assessment, TNReady, will be aligned with the state’s standards. Although he didn’t mention it in his speech, he proposed an $8.5 million bump in spending on assessments this year.

Contact Grace Tatter at [email protected]

Follow us on Twitter: @GraceTatter, @chalkbeattn.

Like us on Facebook.

Sign up for our newsletter for regular updates on Tennessee education news.

Human Resources

A minimum salary for Colorado teachers? State officials may ask lawmakers to consider it.

A teacher reads to her students at the Cole Arts and Science Academy in Denver. (Photo by Nic Garcia/Chalkbeat)

As part of a broad plan to increase the volume of high-quality teachers in Colorado, state officials are considering asking lawmakers to take the bold step of establishing a minimum teacher salary requirement tied to the cost of living.

Officials from the state departments of education and higher education are finalizing a list of recommendations to address challenges to Colorado’s teacher workforce. Pressing for the legislation on teacher salaries is one of dozens of recommendations included in a draft report.

The report, assembled at the request of the legislature, also proposes a marketing campaign and scholarships to attract new teachers to rural areas.

Representatives from the Colorado Department of Education said they would not discuss the recommendations until they’re final. However, the department earlier this month briefed the State Board of Education on their proposed recommendations in advance of the Dec. 1 deadline for it to be finalized.

The impending report — based on thousands of responses from educators, students and other Colorado residents in online surveys and town halls across the state — is a sort of first step for the state legislature to tackle a problem years in the making. Since 2010, Colorado has seen a 24 percent drop in the number of college students graduating from the state’s traditional teacher colleges. There’s also been a 23 percent drop in enrollment in those programs.

Residency programs, which place graduate students in a classroom for a full year with an experienced teacher, and other alternative licensure programs have seen a 40 percent increase in enrollment. But those programs produce far fewer teachers and can’t keep up with demand.

Colorado faces a shortage of teachers in certain subjects, regions and schools, and circumstances vary. Math and science teachers are in short supply: Only 192 college students in 2016 graduated with credentials to teach those subjects. The same year, 751 students left with a degree to teach elementary school.

And rural schools have had an especially hard time finding and keeping teachers.

Here’s a look at what the state departments are considering recommending, based on the presentation from education department officials to the state board:

Provide more and better training to new — and veteran — teachers.

Colorado schools are already required to offer some sort of induction program for new teachers. This training, which lasts between two and three years, is supposed to supplement what they learned during college.

For the last two years, the state education department has been pushing school districts to update their programs. The recommendations in the report could kick things up a notch.

The education departments are asking for updated induction requirements to be written into statute and more money to be provided to districts to pay for the training.

The draft report also calls for more more sustained training for veteran teachers, including competitive grant programs.

An additional suggestion is to create a program to train teachers expressly to teach in rural classrooms.

Increase teacher compensation and benefits.

This will be a hard pill to swallow. According to the presentation to the state board, the education departments want to call on lawmakers to set a minimum salary for teachers based on the school district’s cost of living.

The presentation to the board lacked specifics on how lawmakers and school districts could accomplish this. One board member, Colorado Springs Republican Steve Durham, called it a “mistake” to include such a recommendation.

Keeping up with the rising cost of living is a challenge. A new report shows new teachers in the state’s three largest school districts couldn’t afford to rent a one-bedroom apartment.

“We hope the report itself is going to talk a lot the cost of living — that’s what we heard from our stakeholders across the field,” Colleen O’Neil, the education department’s executive director of educator talent told the state board. “They literally were not able to meet the cost of living because their salaries did not compensate them fairly enough to find housing.”

Other suggestions the report might highlight to improve teacher compensation include loan forgiveness, housing incentives and creating a differentiated pay scale for teachers — something teachers unions staunchly oppose.

Help schools better plan for hiring and send teachers where they’re needed.

One short-term solution the state is considering recommending is allocating more resources to help schools plan for teacher turnover. This includes providing incentives for teachers to notify school leaders about their plans to leave the classroom earlier.

The education departments are also suggesting the state increase the number of programs that can help teachers get licensed in more than one subject at a time. Other ideas include offering scholarships to potential teachers to complete licensing requirements for content areas that are lacking viable candidates — likely math and science — and providing transportation and technology stipends for rural teachers.

Make the teaching profession more attractive.

Teachers “feel they’re not treated like professionals,” O’Neil told the board. So the education departments want the legislature to allow them to partner with private entities to launch a marketing campaign to lift the profile of teaching as a career in the state.

The education departments also hope the legislature considers creating more opportunities for middle and high school students to consider teaching as a viable career path. This could include reinvigorating the state’s Educators Rising program, a program for high school students interested in teaching.

student teaching

Building a teacher pipeline: How one Aurora school has become a training ground for aspiring teachers

Paraprofessional Sonia Guzman, a student of a teaching program, works with students at Elkhart Elementary School in Aurora. (Photo by Yesenia Robles, Chalkbeat)

Students at Aurora’s Elkhart Elementary School are getting assistance from three aspiring teachers helping out in classrooms this year, part of a new partnership aimed at building a bigger and more diverse teacher pipeline.

The teachers-to-be, students at the University of Northern Colorado’s Center for Urban Education, get training and a paid job while they’re in college. Elkhart principal Ron Schumacher gets paraprofessionals with long-term goals and a possibility that they’ll be better prepared to be Aurora teachers.

For Schumacher, it’s part of a plan to not only help his school, but also others in Aurora Public Schools increase teacher retention.

“Because of the nature of our school demographics, it’s a coin flip with a new teacher,” Schumacher said. “If I lose 50 percent of my teachers over time, I’m being highly inefficient. If these ladies know what they’re getting into and I can have them prepared to be a more effective first-year teacher, there’s more likelihood that I’ll keep them in my school in the long term.”

Elkhart has about 590 students enrolled this year. According to state data from last year, more than 95 percent of the students who attend the school qualify for subsidized lunches, a measure of poverty. The school, which operates with an International Baccalaureate program, has outperformed the district average on some state tests.

The three paraprofessionals hired by the school this year are part of the teaching program at UNC’s Lowry campus, which has long required students to work in a school for the four years they work on their degree.

Students get paid for their work in schools, allowing them to earn some money while going to college. Students from the program had worked in Aurora schools in the past, but not usually three students at once at the same school, and not as part of a formal partnership.

The teaching program has a high number of students of color and first-generation college students, which Rosanne Fulton, the program director, said is another draw for partnering with schools in the metro area.

Schumacher said every principal and education leader has the responsibility to help expose students to more teachers who can relate to them.

One of this year’s paraprofessionals is Andy Washington, an 18-year-old who attended Elkhart for a few years when she was a child.

“Getting to know the kids on a personal level, I thought I was going to be scared, but they’re cool,” Washington said.

Another paraprofessional, 20-year-old Sonia Guzman, said kids are opening up to them.

“They ask you what college is like,” Guzman said.

Schumacher said there are challenges to hiring the students, including figuring out how to make use of the students during the morning or early afternoon while being able to release them before school is done for the day so they can make it to their college classes.

Schumacher said he and his district director are working to figure out the best ways to work around those problems so they can share lessons learned with other Aurora principals.

“We’re using some people differently and tapping into volunteers a little differently, but if it’s a priority for you, there are ways of accommodating their schedules,” he said.

At Elkhart, full-time interventionists work with students in kindergarten through third grade who need extra help learning to read.

But the school doesn’t have the budget to hire the same professionals to work with older students. The three student paraprofessionals are helping bridge that gap, learning from the interventionists so they can work with fourth and fifth grade students.

Recently, the three started getting groups of students that they pull out during class to give them extra work on reading skills.

One exercise they worked on with fourth grade students recently was helping them identify if words had an “oi” or “oy” spelling based on their sounds. Students sounded out their syllables and used flashcards to group similar words.

Districts across the country have looked at similar approaches to help attract and prepare teachers for their own schools. In Denver, bond money voters approved last year is helping pay to expand a program this year where paraprofessionals can apply for a one-year program to become teachers while they continue working.

In the partnership at Elkhart, students paraprofessionals take longer than that, but in their first and second year are already learning how to write lessons during their afternoon classes and then working with teachers at the school to deliver the lessons and then reflect on how well they worked. Students say the model helps them feel supported.

“It’s really helping me to become more confident,” said Stephanie Richards, 26, the third paraprofessional. “I know I’m a lot more prepared.”

Schumacher said the model could also work in the future with students from other teaching schools or programs. It’s a small but important part, he said, toward helping larger efforts to attract and retain teachers, and also diversify the ranks.

“You’re doing something for the next generation of folks coming in,” he said.