State Board of Education approves minimum teacher salary increase, but not all pay will be raised

The State Board of Education on Tuesday approved a new salary schedule that raises the minimum annual pay for Tennessee teachers by just under $1,000, but does not translate into an across-the-board 4 percent pay raise for all Tennessee teachers.

Officials with the board and the state Department of Education emphasized that the additional $98 million in state funds allocated for teacher salaries in next year’s state budget will provide districts with additional funding for teacher compensation. However, local districts have discretion over exactly how that money is spent on teacher compensation. For instance, district leaders could use the money to pay for teacher benefits, rather than directly increase salaries.

State officials were optimistic, however, that the money will go a long way toward improving teacher salaries in Tennessee.

“We fully anticipate, especially with the $100 million [that districts] received, that we’re going to come back next year and see a significant improvement [in teacher salaries],” said Stephen Smith, deputy commissioner of education.

Gov. Bill Haslam promised almost $100 million for teacher pay in his annual State of the State address in January, and the legislature approved additional spending of just under $98 million in April as part of the state’s 2015-16 budget. The additional funding was billed as giving teachers a 4 percent teacher pay raise, although its impact would vary from district to district.

The state-approved salary schedule determines the rates of pay to which districts are required to adhere based on teachers’ years of experience and advanced degrees. Districts supplement the minimum with local funding. Since 2007, districts also have been required by law to implement a differentiated pay plan, which allows districts to use anything from student test scores to a teacher’s sponsorship of extracurricular activities in making pay decisions.

With the board’s increase, the state’s minimum annual teacher pay goes from $30,876 to $31,500.

According to data compiled by the Professional Educators of Tennessee, all but four Tennessee districts — in Clay, Hancock, Pickett and Van Buren counties — currently exceed the state minimum. With the increase, two more districts —in Wayne and Cannon counties — will fall below the state-mandated minimum.

State education officials estimate that 27 districts will be required to raise at least some of their teachers’ salaries under the schedule change. Those districts will have less flexibility in how they spend their portion of the $98 million, Smith said.

While Tennessee has increased state spending on teacher salaries by $240 million since 2011, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in teacher pay and 42nd in education spending overall as of 2014. Teacher pay ranges from $39,607 in Grundy County to $56,181 in Shelby County, a salary slightly less than the national average. The highest base salary in the state is $46,500 in the state-run Achievement School District for turnaround schools. (See our interactive map of teacher salaries across the state here).

A bill that would have significantly raised the minimum teacher salary across the state was tabled during the recent legislative session, with representatives labeling the cost too high. The bill is scheduled to be discussed this summer during a study committee.

You can find the approved salary schedule here.

The Board of Education will meet again on July 24 at Eastern Tennessee State University.