Gov. Bill Haslam said Tuesday that teachers can expect another salary increase next school year as part of his administration’s pledge to make Tennessee the nation’s fastest-improving state when it comes to teacher pay.
Haslam said the increase would be substantial, although not as much as the state could afford with its considerable surplus. That’s because any pay hike must be sustainable in lean years, he said.
“We will continue to invest in education whenever we can, but we would like to be thoughtful,” Haslam told reporters after hearings on the budget for 2017-18.
Over the last two years, the governor has shepherded increases totaling $200 million for teacher pay, although the amount that have made it to educators’ paychecks varies considerably statewide. But in 2014, Haslam walked back from a promise to boost spending on teacher pay by 2 percent after the state’s tax revenue came in under projections.
Education investments have been a hallmark of Haslam’s five-year tenure as governor, even as complaints have intensified that Tennessee isn’t spending enough on its students. Three of the state’s four urban school districts have taken the state to court in the last two years over the state’s funding levels, and those cases are pending.
Earlier in the day, Commissioner Candice McQueen asked for a 1.4 percent increase in education spending next school year, mostly to accommodate a projected 1.8 percent increase in student enrollment statewide, a driving component of the state’s school spending formula, called the Basic Education Program, or BEP.
In addition to wanting $58 million more for the BEP, McQueen asked for an extra $4.4 million for the state’s Read to Be Ready literacy initiative; $379,000 more on educator preparation programs; and $2 million to train teachers on new standards for science and the fine arts. She also is requesting $28.9 million for rural education programs.
This spring, the legislature approved the largest-ever increase in Tennessee education spending unaccompanied by a tax increase. They included boosts for teacher salaries, health insurance, English language learner supports, and technology.
McQueen’s presentation was the first step in a lengthy budget process. Haslam’s will present his formal budget proposal next winter, and the legislature will vote on it next spring.