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Tennessee teachers would get immediate 2% pay hike, then another 2% in July under governor’s proposal

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Gov. Bill Lee is proposing to raise salaries for Tennessee teachers and other certified educators.

Mark Weber/Daily Memphian

Tennessee teachers would get a 2% pay raise from Jan. 1 through June, then another 2% boost July 1 under a proposal by Gov. Bill Lee, a spokeswoman said Friday.

Legislation filed by legislative leaders and backed by the governor would allocate more than $42 million for additional compensation for educators in the current fiscal year that ends on June 30. That amount would cover both state and local contributions to immediate salary increases for teachers and other certified education staff.

If the retroactive raise is approved, the governor plans to ask the legislature for another 2% hike for next year, said spokeswoman Laine Arnold. Lee is expected to present his proposed budget to the legislature in February for the 2021-22 fiscal year.

Teacher pay is one of the key issues that lawmakers are expected to take up beginning Jan. 19 during a special legislative session on education.

On Thursday, the governor released his first proposals for lawmakers to consider next week. He promised more money for teacher salaries but did not specify how much. 

A 4% total increase would match what he proposed a year ago but rolled back after the pandemic emerged and the state’s economy sputtered. 

House education chairman Mark White said Friday that while he supports a 4% raise, he wants every teacher in Tennessee to benefit — something that isn’t guaranteed because of the way the state funds schools. Under the state’s funding formula, school systems that meet certain average salary thresholds can put state instructional money toward benefits or hiring additional teachers or staff instead of raises.

It’s uncertain whether lawmakers could take away that local flexibility.

Tennessee has steadily invested in teacher pay, including about $370 million since 2016, but continues to lag both regionally and nationally. A recent analysis by the Southern Regional Education Board shows Tennessee’s average educator salary in 2018-19 trailed half of the region’s states, including in border states like Georgia, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Virginia.

Educator groups say the pandemic has only spotlighted the pay issue, with teachers working longer hours with little training or support and risking exposure to the virus when instructing students in person.

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